Photo: Dustin Long

Elliott Sadler, track president have disagreement over security guard’s actions

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Elliott Sadler and the track president of Homestead-Miami Speedway had a heated discussion Friday about a security guard denying Sadler entrance to the infield earlier in the day.

Sadler said he did not have a parking pass when he arrived at the track because it was in his motorhome. He said he showed the guard his NASCAR driver credential.

“Oh yeah, I know who you are, but you’re still not going in,’ “ Sadler said the guard told him.

Sadler, who is retiring from full-time competition after this weekend, recounted the episode when he met the media Friday.

“Does anybody have any common sense at this race track?” Sadler said. “Guys, you don’t even know who you are doing security for. You have no idea. Finally I had to steal a parking pass from somebody else until I could get inside to get mine to get to my bus. I’m just sitting there thinking that the guy tells me he knows who I am but he’s still not going to let in. That really took the cake.

“Homestead, please get some folks in here that know what they’re doing. I don’t know who the president is of this track, but he needs to wake up.

“I’ve been doing this for 23 years, 23 years, and that’s the first time, ever, ever, that me and the gate guard if I did not have a parking pass yet because I just landed, that he and I couldn’t have a common sense discussion, here’s my annual, look I’m a driver. I told security, ride with me, I’ll show you where I’m going. I’ll bring you back out here. First time in 23 years. I was mad.”

After his news conference, Sadler was introduced to Matt Becherer, who has been the track’s president since December 2009. They had a heated discussion that lasted a few minutes.

“Our security team is always looking to make sure that people have the proper credentials, which are personal credentials as well as parking passes,” he told NBC Sports. “A parking pass was missing in this instance, and we were just asking for it. Simple as that.”

Asked if everything is resolved, Becherer said: “I don’t know. He’s got everything he needs. We’re looking forward to a great race (Saturday) and wishing him the best in (Saturday) night’s race.”

This is the second time in a little more than a decade that a NASCAR driver has had an issue with a security guard at this track. Kasey Kahne was arrested in 2007 after an incident with a security guard. Kahne had completed running on track and was being taken back to the driver motorhome lot in a golf cart when he was stopped and asked for his credentials.

A police report stated that Kahne exited the golf cart and tried to walk into the motorhome lot. The report stated that when the security guard blocked Kahne, Kahne pushed the guard to the ground. Kahne’s record was cleared upon performing community service, and the security guard’s lawsuit was dismissed after an undisclosed settlement.

Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin could end winless streaks at Martinsville

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The clock is ticking loudly for five drivers.

Four Cup races remain in the 2018 season and that is bad news for at least one of the full-time drivers who won last year but are winless this year.

Entering Sunday’s race at Martinsville (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Newman have yet to accomplish what they did in 2017 – win.

If Larson, Stenhouse or Newman fail to win any of the remaining four races, it will not be entirely out of the ordinary. Larson has a two-year streak of victories while Stenhouse’s only career wins came last year on a pair of plate tracks and Newman has only one victory since 2013.

But for Johnson and Hamlin, it will put them in unchartered waters. Neither driver has failed to win since they earned their first Cup victory as a rookie.

Johnson’s first victory came at Auto Club in 2002 in his 13th start. Technically, he has had one winless season. He started three races in 2001 in preparation for his full-time campaign. But no one expected him to win that year – and more importantly, he never stopped once he started.

The possible ending of a 16-year winning streak looms large.

“It’s high on my list for sure to get that steak alive,” Johnson said earlier this month. “Other than the obvious, I mean it’s just the obvious things, I want to keep that streak alive. I know it’s in us. I guess you do hang on to some stats that float around there although I don’t spend a lot of time looking at them, I take pride in the fact that we have made every Playoff that NASCAR has had so far.”

Johnson qualified for the 2018 playoffs, but in the split second he had to consider on the last lap at the Charlotte Roval whether it was more important to advance to the second round or win, he opted to try and get that elusive victory.

“To have 16 winning seasons, I sure as hell want 17 winning seasons,” Johnson said. “The Roval, I had a look at one and certainly took a shot at it. Then (at Dover) we were just frothing at the mouth ready for that opportunity and didn’t even get to take the green unfortunately. At least on my list to keep that streak alive. Obviously, now that the championship opportunity is closed out, that is the next target to have.”

Johnson won three times in 2002 and in the 15 years that followed, he has won at least twice per year.

In stark contrast, he has only two top fives in 2018. Johnson finished third at Bristol in April and was fifth at the Charlotte oval in May.

For so long, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus made wining look easy. This year was a reminder that it is not.

“It’s important to try to win this season,” Knaus said. “You guys rely on stats way more than what I do. But, yeah, contrary to what people believe we go to the race track to win every week. So, that is kind of the goal and that is what we are going to do.

“It’s very difficult. We at times made it seem very simple to win races. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have made it seem very simple to win races from time to time, but it’s really difficult. So, a lot of the stars have to align and like I mentioned before, I think we are in a position right now where we are getting pretty close to the stars getting right where we need them to win some races. We are going to some great race tracks.”

It has been 55 races since Johnson scored his latest win at Dover last June.

Hamlin’s winning streak is equally impressive. He won twice in his rookie season of 2006, sweeping both Pocono races and has a current streak of 12 years.

Hamlin has come closer to victory lane on many more occasions than Johnson this year. In 32 races, Hamlin has nine top fives. Earlier this month, he had a shot at winning Dover before crossing under the checkers second to Chase Elliott.

Hamlin’s winless streak stands at 43 races. He last visited victory lane at Darlington last September.

This week will be critical. That loud ticking sound heard by Johnson and Hamlin comes from multiple grandfather clocks that are handed out as Martinsville trophies.

Both drivers count Martinsville as one of their best tracks.

Johnson has a career average finish of 7.9 in 33 starts there, which places this track just behind Auto Cub (7.2 in 24 starts). He has visited Martinsville’s victory lane nine times – most recently in 2016.

Hamlin’s career average of 10.1 in 25 starts places this track third on his list behind Darlington (6.2 in 13 starts) and Richmond (9.6 in 25 starts). He has five Martinsville wins. His most recent victory there came in 2015.

Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne also won races in 2018, but neither driver has a full-time ride this year.

Kenseth is running a part-time schedule with Roush Fenway Racing. He is entered this week at Martinsville and will close out the season at Phoenix and Homestead. Trevor Bayne will be in the car for Texas.

Kahne was forced to retire before the end of the season for medical reasons.

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Leavine Family Racing signs Matt DiBenedetto, joins Toyota for 2019

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Leavine Family Racing announced that it will field Toyotas and has hired Matt DiBenedetto for next season.

DiBenedetto will not join the team early. Car owner Bob Leavine said that Regan Smith will finish the season in the No. 95.

“There is no rush to get him in there,” Leavine said of DiBenedetto, noting his confidence in the driver and also allowing DiBenedetto finish the season with Go Fas Racing.

Levine said the team signed DiBendetto to a 2-year deal. Levine said the team’s deal with Toyota is “the same with JGR …  two years with a third-year option. Hopefully, a long time but that is what it is on paper.”

Leavine said the crew chief, engineer and car chief positions have yet to be determined.

As part of the partnership, Joe Gibbs Racing will be aligned with Leavine Family Racing. JGR will provide cars to the team. As part of its current deal with Furniture Row Racing, JGR provides the chassis but Furniture Row Racing hangs its own bodies. JGR also will provide the pit crew for Leavine Family Racing, same as Joe Gibbs Racing has done for Furniture Row Racing. Toyota Racing Development will provide engines and technology to the team.

“Our vision is to get better from where they are today,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development.

Car owner Bob Leavine and Matt DiBenedetto at the announcement that Leavine Family Racing will drive for the team in 2019. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Leavine Family Racing debuted in 2011, running four races with David Starr. The team never ran more than about half a season until 2016 when it switched from Ford to Chevrolet and ran a full season with Michael McDowell and Ty Dillon splitting duties.

The move to Toyota means the organization will have been with all three Cup manufacturers within a decade.

Leavine Family Racing replaces Furniture Row Racing in the Toyota camp beginning next season. Furniture Row Racing will cease operations after this season.

Furniture Row Racing had won two races before joining Toyota and being aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2016. The organization has since won 16 races (15.7 percent of all the races run in that time) and a championship with Martin Truex Jr. He is among the 12 drivers racing for a championship this season.

Leavine Family Racing has never won a Cup race. The team has had Kasey Kahne and Regan Smith driver for it this season and is 25th in the owner standings.

DiBenedetto moves to the best ride he’s had in Cup. The 27-year-old is in his fourth season in Cup. He is 30th in the points, which would be his best career finish.

He drove for BK Racing in 2015-16 before moving to Go Fas Racing in 2017. He announced in September that he would not return to Go Fas Racing after this season.

DiBenedetto made his Xfinity debut in 2009 at age 17 at Memphis for Joe Gibbs Racing. DiBenedetto drove six Xfinity races for the team in 2010. He ran in the K&N East Pro Series in 2011 before returning to Xfinity in 2012 to start and park seven races. He made six Xfinity starts in 2013 and never finished any of those races. In 2014, he ran 29 Xfinity races, starting and parking in more than a third of those starts.

Long: Kasey Kahne’s exit robs NASCAR fans of one last cheer for their driver

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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The end was coming. Kasey Kahne foretold that when he said in August this would be his last full-time season in NASCAR.

But Tuesday’s announcement that Kahne has not been medically cleared to run the rest of the Cup season ends a career that began with such allure and promise that some of his memorabilia had to be flown in from overseas to satisfy demand.

A career that should be celebrated ends muted and abbreviated. His time in NASCAR will be recalled as not working out the way it was supposed to — from the courtroom drama over where he would race in Cup as a rookie to near-misses on the track, changing rides, being lent to a team and his departure from the series.

It has been quite a journey.

Even before he competed in his first Cup race, two manufacturers signed him. A federal court settled the matter.  He could drive for Ray Evernham’s Dodge team

When Kahne finished second in two of his first three Cup races in 2004 (he lost at Rockingham to Matt Kenseth by one-hundredth of a second), his popularity soared. Crowds left little in his souvenir hauler. One company flew his die-cast cars from China — instead of shipping them by boat.

With penetrating blue eyes, he became one of NASCAR’s heartthrobs. Kahne was selected to People magazine’s “America’s Top 50 Bachelors” at the height of NASCAR’s popularity in the mid-2000s and had women fawn over him in those Allstate commercials.

His support grew as he came close to winning but didn’t his rookie season. Newer fans might call that a Kyle Larson-type season, noting how close Larson came to winning as a rookie without doing so.

Kahne scored his first Cup win in May 2005 at Richmond. He held off Tony Stewart in the closing laps, a point Stewart noted when he congratulated Kahne.

“I just told Kasey that down the road when they talk about his first win that I got the honor of being the guy they mentioned that he had to race for the win,” Stewart said that night.

The victories came more often. Kahne won a season-high six races in 2006, including the Coca-Cola 600 for the first of three times.

He was so popular that he replaced Dale Earnhardt Jr. as Budweiser’s driver after Earnhardt moved from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. While Kahne did not have the party reputation Earnhardt had, Kahne’s youth and good looks matched the image Budweiser sought to promote.

Kahne’s win at Sonoma in 2009 for Richard Petty Motorsports marked Petty’s first time in Victory Lane as an owner in a decade.

Kahne had so much promise that car owner Rick Hendrick signed him in 2010 even though Hendrick did not have a ride available until the 2012 season. Kahne spent that in-between year with Red Bull Racing and won a race.

In his first season at Hendrick, Kahne finished a career-high fourth in the standings. It would be the high point of his six years there. Kahne won six races for the organization, including last year’s Brickyard 400 that ended a 102-race winless streak.

“I’m going to treasure this forever,’’ Kahne told NBC Sports after the win.

But that race foreshadowed the problems that plagued Kahne this season. Kahne battled severe cramping and went to the infield care center for IV fluids before he completed his duties as winner that day.

Those issues worsened this year. Darlington proved almost too much. Kahne said “it was really hard to keep my eyes open and see” during the last 100 laps of the Southern 500 as he battled extreme dehydration. 

“I was trying to control my heart rate because it was so high,” he said. “I basically just kind of laid in the car and drove around the corners. At that point all I’m doing is focusing on my body and my health, not on what I should be actually focusing on, and that’s racing.”

He tested last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway and in less than two hours of track time could not ease doctor concerns he’d be well enough to run any Cup race this year.

So, any farewell fans wished to have these final weeks of the season will have to take place on social media or a dirt track where Kahne will race his sprint car.

That might be the best place to appreciate Kahne — back in the type of racing that led him to NASCAR, his car sliding through the corners with a rooster tail of dirt trailing.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Aric Almirola interview, Penske success at Dega

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NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN. Host Krista Voda is joined by analysts Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett.

On today’s show:

  • On Sunday at Dover, Stewart-Haas Racing was on the verge of having one of its greatest days as a company – until everything went wrong in the final 80 laps. How is SHR putting Dover behind it and focusing on this weekend’s race at Talladega? Dillon Welch is at the team’s headquarters in Kannapolis, North Carolina to find out, and he’s got interviews with Aric Almirola and the team’s Xfinity Series playoff hopeful, Cole Custer.

 

  • Late-race restarts have not always gone well for Chase Elliott. But on Sunday, he nailed two of them late on his way to victory. We’ll break down how Elliott has progressed in the ‘restart arts,’ which could make the difference in his pursuit of the championship.

 

  • After a ho-hum day at Dover, Team Penske heads to Talladega, a track the organization has excelled at in recent years. At such a chaotic and unpredictable track, how have the Penske drivers become steady front-runners?

 

  • And it’s been a newsy Tuesday in the NASCAR world, as one veteran driver is forced to say goodbye and a rising star is getting a new crew chief. We’ll have the latest on Kasey Kahne and Daniel Suarez.

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 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.