Bent fenders, first-time winners define start of NBC’s NASCAR schedule

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We’re four races into NBC Sports’ portion of the NASCAR schedule and actor Michael Rooker was right about one thing: things have gotten real.

There have been four Cup races shown on NBC networks and each has delivered a finish – or lightning strike – worth talking about.

Each race has been won by a different driver who also was making their first trip to victory lane this year. Two earned their first career Cup wins.

Here’s a look at the how the second half of the season has unfolded.

June 30, 2019 – Chicagoland Speedway

Alex Bowman finally punched his ticket to victory lane in the Cup Series.

It took 134 series starts, three consecutive runner-up finishes earlier in the year and a lengthy rain delay to begin the race day.

Racing under the lights, Bowman dueled with Kyle Larson over the last eight laps, with the two drivers making contact with six laps to go as Bowman drafted off the left side of Larson’s car.

After he took the checkered flag, Bowman’s victory lane visit was delayed even further when his No. 88 Chevrolet got stuck in the rain-soaked infield.

“I’m the dumb guy that won the race and then got stuck in the mud,” Bowman told NBCSN.

July 7 – Daytona International Speedway

Though there wasn’t a dramatic on-track finish to the final scheduled July Cup race at Daytona, there was a surprise winner.

Justin Haley had to wait a significantly shorter amount of time than Bowman to get his first Cup win, celebrating his in 131 fewer races.

Following a massive crash with 43 laps to go, leader Kurt Busch and a group of other teams elected to pit when NASCAR said they would go back to green in one lap.

Then lightning struck within eight miles of the track.

The field was brought to pit road with 33 laps to go and Haley scored as the leader in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet, a team and car in their first year of existence.

The race never resumed as NASCAR eventually called the race official.

“I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega,” Haley told NBCSN. “It’s just unreal. I don’t know how to feel.”

While Busch had been on the “wrong side of a lightning bolt” he wouldn’t have to wait long for his own celebration.

July 13 – Kentucky Speedway

“Hell yeah! Hell yeah!” bellowed Kurt Busch on the start-finish line after the Quaker State 400.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver had plenty of reasons to be excited.

He’d just triumphed in an overtime finish over his little brother Kyle Busch.

It was the first time Kurt Busch had won in a 1-2 Cup finish against Kyle.

The elder Busch survived making contact with his brother twice on the final lap, including as they exited Turn 4 in the race to the checkered flag.

The victory was Kurt Busch’s first since joining CGR in December and also was the first career win for crew chief Matt McCall in 164 starts. The victory snapped a 64-race winless streak for Ganassi stretching back to the 2017 regular-season finale at Richmond.

July 21 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Kevin Harvick is the latest driver to end a lengthy winless streak with dramatic flair.

Sunday saw the Stewart-Haas Racing driver end a 21-race drought after he held off Denny Hamlin over the final 35 laps while racing on older tires.

After Hamlin and other drivers pitted under the final caution, Harvick and two other cars stayed out.

Hamlin wasn’t able to get within striking distance until the last lap. The two veterans slammed sheet metal twice, with Hamlin’s failed bump-and-run in Turn 1 and then Harvick cutting off Hamlin’s path as they exited Turn 4.

“I knew that (Hamlin) was gonna take a shot,” Harvick said. “I would have taken a shot. I stood on the brakes and just tried to keep it straight. I just didn’t want to get him back from the inside and let him have another shot. I wanted to at least be in control of who was gonna have contact in Turn 3 and 4. It was a heck of a finish, closer than what we wanted, but it was our only chance.”

Hamlin was left to re-think the final lap as Harvick celebrated in the background.

Second sucks,” Hamlin told NBCSN.

Up Next: Pocono

Six races remain in the regular season and the next chance for Cup drama will come at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN), the 2.5-mile triangle that the series visited in June.

But the circumstances will be a little bit different. After complaints about the competition in June, the track will apply the PJ1 traction compound to areas in all three turns.

It’s the first time the track has applied the traction agent to its surface.

It will also be the third consecutive race the Cup Series has held on a track treated with it, following Kentucky and New Hampshire.

And we all know how those races ended.

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Longtime crew chief Nick Harrison dies at 37, team announces

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LOUDON, N.H. — Kaulig Racing announced Sunday morning that veteran crew chief Nick Harrison died. He was 37.

Harrison was the crew chief for Justin Haley‘s No. 11 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series and had called the car’s 13th-place finish Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

In a statement attributed to team owner Matt Kaulig and president Chris Rice, the team said in a tweet that “It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Nick Harrison, our beloved crew chief of the No. 11 car at Kaulig Racing. Please keep Nick’s family in your thoughts and prayers at this time.”

No cause of death or information on services was immediately available. A Kaulig Racing spokesperson said “further details would be provided as they come.”

NASCAR released a statement on Harrison’s death: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of longtime crew chief Nick Harrison, and offer our thoughts, prayers and support to his family, friends and Kaulig Racing colleagues.”

According to Racing-Reference.info, Harrison made his debut as an Xfinity crew chief in 2006. He was a crew chief for 184 Xfinity races (including 17 with Haley this year) and had five victories, his first with Kurt Busch in 2012 at Daytona International Speedway with James Finch’s Phoenix Racing.

He also worked 120 races as a crew chief in the Cup Series, including full seasons in 2011-12 with Phoenix Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet. He guided Busch to a third place June 24, 2012 at Sonoma Raceway, marking Harrison’s best finish as a Cup crew chief.

Harrison also won three times in the Xfinity Series with Austin Dillon and once with Paul Menard. He also won with Dillon in the Aug. 2, 2014 truck race at Pocono Raceway, one of three truck races for Harrison as a crew chief.

During a career with several teams including Phoenix, Richard Childress Racing and Kaulig, Harrison worked with more than a dozen Cup and Xfinity drivers. The roster included Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott, Boris Said, A.J. Allmendinger, Micahel McDowell, Regan Smith, Ryan Truex, Landon Cassill, Jamie McMurray, Ty Dillon, Jeremy Clements, Brandon Jones, Ben Kennedy and Brendan Gaughan.

Today’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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After a harrowing series of practice sessions for some teams at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s premier series is scheduled for 301 laps Sunday at the Magic Mile.

Five drivers — Alex Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin — will start from the rear in backup cars after crashes the past two days.

Brad Keselowski will start first after capturing his first pole position since October 2017.

Here’s all the info for today’s event:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The green flag is scheduled for 3:15 p.m.

PRERACE: The garage will open at 9:30 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Driver introductions will begin at 2:30 p.m. The national anthem will be performed by Whitney Doucet at 3:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 301 laps (318.46 miles) around the 1.058-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150

TV/RADIO: Prerace coverage will begin at 1:30 p.m. with NASCAR America on NBCSN, followed by  Countdown to Green at 2:30 on NBCSN and the race broadcast at 3 on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network will broadcast the race. PRN’s coverage begins at 2 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast, which is also available at goprn.com.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high of 90 degrees and a 24% chance of scattered thunderstorms for the start of the race. 

LAST TIME: Kevin Harvick bumped Kyle Busch from the lead on Lap 295 of 301. Aric Almirola finished third. 

TO THE REAR: Alex Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin will drop to the back because they are in backup cars.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Ryan Blaney fastest in final Cup practice at New Hampshire

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Ryan Blaney was fastest in the Cup Series’ final practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Blaney posted a top speed of 133.572 mph.

He was followed by Denny Hamlin (133.226 mph), Kyle Busch (132.739), Kevin Harvick (132.688) and Martin Truex Jr. (132.646).

Brad Keselowski (sixth) and Kurt Busch (14th) each recorded the most laps in the session with 61.

Blaney also had the best 10-lap average.

Click here for the speed chart.

Alex Bowman wrecked in Turns 1 and 2 in the middle of the session.

Bowman, who was already in a backup car after he had a driveshaft failure in qualifying Friday, will now go to a second backup car. The No. 88 team will use Jimmie Johnson‘s backup car.

Matt DiBenedetto‘s left-rear tire shredded twice during the session.

“Not a lot of warning, I’ll tell you that,” DiBenedetto told NBCSN after the first tire problem. “I went down into (Turn) 1 and I was passing (Landon Cassill), as soon as we got down into the corner I don’t know if we ran over something or what but the left rear went down in a hurry.”

DiBenedetto, who qualified seventh for Sunday’s race, was able return to the track to make a lap right before the session ended.

 

Cup starting lineup at New Hampshire has Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch on front row

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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Rivals Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch will share the front row for Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Keselowski won his 15th career pole – and first since August 2017 – on Friday. He will have Busch start next to him.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

The rivals have had numerous run-ins throughout the their career.

Kurt Busch, who won last weekend at Kentucky, qualified third and is followed by Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney.

Three drivers will start at the rear: Denny Hamlin (backup), Alex Bowman (backup) and Ryan Newman (backup).