Kevin Harvick wins provisional Cup pole at Richmond

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Kevin Harvick claimed the provisional pole for Saturday’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway.

Harvick claimed the top spot with a speed of 124.298 mph.

The field won’t be finalized until pre-race inspection is complete Saturday. Should Harvick pass inspection, it would be his 27th Cup pole and his second of 2019 (Las Vegas).

Erik Jones qualified second and the top five is completed by Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch.

The top 10 is filled out by Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson.

“We did a great job today, I didn’t think it was a perfect lap from my standpoint, but I was able to get in the throttle on the exit of the corner and put down a decent lap,” Harvick told Fox Sports 1.

While Kyle Larson was second fastest in the first round, he’ll start 14th after he didn’t advance out of the second round.

“Each lap of that first round I was getting tighter in the center and was slowing down,” Larson told Fox Sports 1. “There in the second round I was just too tight in the middle.”

Denny Hamlin will start 18th.

Michael McDowell, Bubba Wallace, Matt DiBenedetto, Corey LaJoie, Ryan Blaney and Ryan Newman were among the drivers who failed to advance out of the first round.

Blaney, who will start 29th, said he fought a lack of grip on the track.

“The race track had no rubber on it from all the rain and we waited to be one of the last cars out,” Blaney told Fox Sports 1. “That really (doesn’t) work out too well.”

Click here for the provisional starting lineup

Under the radar drivers have noteworthy day at Martinsville

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While most of the attention was on Brad Keselowski’s dominant win Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, several other drivers had noteworthy under-the-radar finishes.

Among those:

* While some might consider a 17th-place finish a mediocre outing, it was a high point for Bubba Wallace. He finally cracked the top 20 in Cup race finishes at Martinsville after consecutive 34th-place finishes in both races in 2018. It also was Wallace’s best Cup finish since he finished 10th at Phoenix in last season’s playoff race.

It was a very trying day … that resulted in a strong finish at the Martinsville Speedway,” Wallace said.

* Ty Dillon is continuing to show steady progress this season. His 13th-place finish at Martinsville was his third top-15 result of the season. He opened the season by placing sixth in the Daytona 500. 

Also of note, Dillon didn’t record his third top 15 last season until Daytona, 18 races into the season..

I am really proud of our effort,” Dillon said after Sunday’s race. “This is what we envisioned three years ago in doing. Just getting better every year and making sure we had taken the right steps to be where we needed to be in year three. We just want to keep going in that direction.

I think as we continue to grow we are going to be more and more competitive at the short tracks. We just have to get it where we are running top 15 at the 1.5-mile tracks, and then we can be really competitive.”

* Paul Menard continues to make progress at Wood Brothers Racing, earning his fourth top-15 (and fifth top-20) finish of the season with a 15th place showing at Martinsville.

Menard has six top-20 finishes in his last eight starts at the .526-mile short track.

* Ryan Preece finished 16th Sunday for his best result since placing eighth in the Daytona 500. 

“We got in a hole in Stage 2 and were able to climb out of it and get back to there,” Preece tweeted. “Building that notebook for what I need is just the start. We all want top 10s right now. Hard work and teamwork will get us there.”

* Matt DiBenedetto earned his second consecutive top-20 finish: 18th at Fontana and 20th Sunday at Martinsville. Those are his best finishes thus far in 2019.

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What drivers said after Auto Club qualifying

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Austin Dillon — qualified 1st: “Well, a lot of the cars wanted to follow us, they knew we had the car to beat. So trying to get us to go was probably a part of that. And then, when the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) made a little bit of a move there, I was going to follow him to have one car to beat. I didn’t have to make it back around. Then the No. 12 (Ryan Blaney) came through the grass, I thought he demolished his car. It looked like he left the ground over there, I don’t know what he hit, but it was pretty wild. At that point, my spotter said you can bring it around here, I knew we had gotten the pole. God never ceases to amaze me, Man. It is awesome to see the blessings that have been bestowed on me. It is special.”

Kevin Harvick — qualified 2nd: (On what happened in the final round): “I think the crowd booing tells the story.”

Aric Almirola — qualified 3rd: “That is the product of the environment we are in. We are all very dependent on posting a good lap based on the draft that you get. You are in that box and it is really stressful trying to figure out when to leave pit road and what position to put yourself in and you can’t be the lead car. The lead car is at such a disadvantage. You just play all the games and if you are going to be the lead car you try to drag it out until you are the only car that makes the line. If you misjudge a little bit you get what we just saw.”

Kyle Busch — qualified 4th: (Any solutions?) “They fixed it in trucks, right? Made single-car qualifying. … You can’t be the leader. If you’re the leader, you don’t qualify up front. … In a perfect world, you try to leave pit road with the exact amount of time that it takes to come back around for you to be able to take the green flag and everybody else’s time to be disallowed, but we all missed that.”

Joey Logano — qualified 5th: “We blew it, but at least we all did. The answer is to go sooner but nobody wants to be the first one out there. I don’t know really what to say. We have something to talk about now I guess. I don’t know what to tell you. That is the game. It is just part of it.”

Denny Hamlin — qualified 6th: “No, it’s not a mind game but you don’t want to be first. When you don’t want to be first, you wait until someone goes in front of you. … I knew I had a drop-down time on my dash (on when to leave pit road). But I was boxed in where I couldn’t go. Once everyone left pit road, they then checked up and slowed down. I knew we weren’t going to make it.”

Ryan Newman — qualified 7th: “I don’t think that was a very successful use of TV time for our sponsors. I told you all back in Vegas that I am still a big fan of single-car qualifying. That is all I need to say, really. That is the way qualifying should be. The gamesmanship that goes on, the lack of 100 percent, it is not what qualifying is all about. That is the program that NASCAR set forth and the rules they laid down and the box they put us in. Shame on us for not getting a lap in.”

Chase Elliott — qualified 8th: “Well, I don’t know. Obviously nobody wants to be the first guy so it’s unfortunate. I don’t know what the fix is. I feel like it’s entertaining with us going out there and drafting and trying to set-up that gap to do it right. It’s just tough because nobody wants to be the first one. And obviously you’re not going to go if you’re going to be first.”

Clint Bowyer — qualified 9th: “You know, I have seen it in other sports but never seen it in ours. We just got booed and it is disappointing. It is disappointing for everybody involved. I don’t know. I saw this coming three weeks ago. I think we all did. Unfortunately we are going to have to be reactive to it instead of proactive. It is just a learning process. The whole package is. Everybody knows that going in and everybody has been patience but I am a little out of patience with Friday’s. There is so much hard work and dedication on so many teams behalves to go out there and have the fastest car known to mankind that you are literally capable of building in the walls of your organization and it just doesn’t matter. That is not racing. I feel like we are capable as an industry of putting on a better show than that. I know they will make the right provisions to make that correction but unfortunately it is going to take something like that to make that adjustment.”

Ryan Blaney — qualified 10th: “It is just the way it is. It is such a big place and you don’t want to be the first person to go because you are going to qualify last in the round. We got close to the time we needed to go and we just didn’t make it. We had the truck deal three or four years ago and they went away from it and now we are back to doing it and running into the same problems. That is just how it is.”

Jimmie Johnson — qualified 11th: “I understand why we’re in this box. Single car qualifying isn’t all that entertaining. So, I guess we’ll just have to see what the opinion is from this and go with the lesser of the two evils in the end.”

Brad Keselowski — qualified 13th: “I don’t’ know. The race is going to be so much different than qualifying, so I don’t think there is a whole lot you can really take away from today. This was pretty much the same at Vegas. Kind of in between Vegas and Atlanta.”

Chris Buescher — qualified 14th: “We should have been a little bit better based on practice, but I love this race track. And, it’s a fun race. It’s just been a lot of fun to race everywhere this year. I’m glad the qualifying portion is over and we can get into the race and have some fun.”

Kyle Larson — qualified 15th: “I was the lead car for that big draft there. We ended up 15th. After last week you don’t want to mess up and not get a lap again. So, just trying to be as patient as you can be but still not be the lead car. But we wanted to leave ourselves some time. So we were just the lead car and were hoping that other people wouldn’t make it to the line in time.”

Ty Dillon — qualified 16th — “That’s a massive improvement over last year’s results. And we’ve been really succeeding in this style of qualifying. It’s different, for sure, but we also we’re all out there trying to do the same thing and be the fastest car. So, I’m proud of our effort and proud of what we’re doing as a team and we’re definitely embracing this style of qualifying.”

Daniel Hemric — qualified 17th: “We just kind of found ourselves on the back end of a draft that put us side-by-side racing cars and that’s not ideal when you’re trying to run a fast lap. We’ll roll off in 17th and it’s good to see a Bowtie on the front row there with (teammate) Austin Dillon getting the pole and it’s really cool for RCR. Those guys are putting in a lot of effort and Chevrolet and ECR and all our partners are doing a lot of good things to give us speed and it’s good to pay off. We thought we should have had two or three poles by now so it’s good for one of us at RCR to finally get one.”

Daniel Suarez — qualified 20th: “If you qualify well, it is fun. If you don’t qualify well, it is a little frustrating at times. It was a little frustrating for me because things didn’t work out the way that we were planning.”

Matt DiBenedetto — qualified 24th: “Just frustration, not at our guys. Our guys do nothing but work their tails off and give me a good Toyota Camry. That’s fun, but I have to say thanks to everybody here at Procore and all the folks that give me this opportunity, but the situation – I don’t love losing my mind every week in qualifying.”

Martin Truex Jr. — qualified 27th: “It was just that he (Cody Ware) ran the bottom in three and four, which is where I wanted to be. Since he was just leaving the pits, he ran high to get his momentum up like normal and just missed the bottom there and that obviously hurt our speed there off three and four. It’s unfortunate, we missed it today off the hauler. We were pretty tight in practice and then we were way too loose there. We were just on both sides of it. We’ve been struggling a little bit on Fridays, but I know we’ll be right tomorrow and we’ll have some cars to pass Sunday, but I know we can do it.”

Bubba Wallace — qualified 28th: “Been disappointed for a while. (What are you lacking?) Money. It’s where we’re lacking. We need money to make more speed.”

Cody Ware – qualified 34th: “Apologies on my part (for getting in Martin Truex Jr.’s way in qualifying). I’m just, obviously, not normally looking behind … in qualifying. I’m listening to what my spotter has to say. Apologies to Truex if I may have impeded his lap in any way.”

Jimmie Johnson fastest in Friday’s Cup practice at Fontana

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Jimmie Johnson was ight at home at his home race track in Friday’s lone NASCAR Cup practice session at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Johnson covered the two-mile high speed oval with the best speed of the 38 drivers that took to the track at 179.386 mph. In fact, Chevrolet drivers comprised the top three fastest drivers with Austin Dillon second-fastest (179.350), followed by Chris Buescher (178.975).

Johnson has had significant success at Auto Club Speedway in his career. He’s made 24 Cup starts there, earning six wins, 13 top-fives and 17 top-10s.

“There are tracks that a driver can make a difference at,” Johnson said. “Dover has always been one for me. This track has been one. The one thing that is so different right now is we’re back to a package we’ve run two other times this year. We’re on a high wear track.

“I look at Atlanta, it did not go well. Atlanta is similar to this place. So, I’m hopeful that we’ve made our car better since Atlanta for this type of environment. That’s what I think the whole Hendrick Motorsports crowd is focused on right now.”

Johnson’s winless streak is now at 63 races. His last victory was at Dover in spring 2017. He’d love to break that dubious streak Sunday on familiar ground.

“Without a doubt,” Johnson said. “And, I’m not into crashing cars. I’m not into crashing other people for the win. So, moving somebody out of the way for a win is the way you need to race.

“And then the thing that I find so funny is people want to say that NASCAR has lost its character and that drivers are scared and they won’t move somebody out of the way; and then a guy does it and you have this backlash. So, I don’t know.”

All of the fastest speeds in the session came from cars that had a draft.

Click here for practice report

Kyle Busch, who hopes to earn his 200th overall NASCAR victory of his career in either Saturday’s Xfinity race or Sunday’s Cup race, was fourth-fastest at 178.802 mph, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin (178.767).

Brad Keselowski was the fastest and only Ford driver in the top 10 with a sixth-best speed of 178.399 mph, followed by Chase Elliott (178.390), William Byron (178.108), Matt DiBenedetto (178.020) and Kyle Larson (178.686).

Qualifying for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 will take place later this afternoon at 5:40 p.m. ET.

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Friday 5: What Cup teams with new drivers are better off?

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Some moves were made by teams. Others were made by drivers looking for better opportunities. Whatever the reason, there were a number of driver changes after last year.

Four races into this season, one can get a glimpse of how those changes are working out. In some cases, the comparisons may look unkindly on who was in the car last year — think about Chevrolet teams and the struggles many had early with the Camaro last year or how a team has switched manufacturers since last year — but here is a look at how some of the moves have gone.

Five of the eight full-time teams that had driver changes for this season are showing an uptick in performance in the first four races of this season compared to the same time last year.

No surprise that former champion Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn have raised the level of the No. 19 team at Joe Gibbs Racing. Truex has two runner-up finishes this season and has scored 140 points — 73 points more than Daniel Suarez had with that ride in the first four races last year.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The No. 1 team at Chip Ganassi Racing also has seen a 73-point gain in the first four races this season with Kurt Busch compared to the same time with Jamie McMurray last year. Busch has three finishes of seventh or better in his Chevrolet Camaro to score 126 points.

Also making gains this year are the No. 6 team at Roush Fenway Racing with Ryan Newman. He has three finishes of 14th or better this season and has scored 25 more points than Trevor Bayne had in that car at this time last year.

Corey LaJoie and Matt DiBenedetto also have helped their teams to more points than last year at this time. DiBenedetto took over Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 — which also changed to Toyota and aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing after last year — and has scored five more points than Kasey Kahne had in the first four races last year when that team was with Chevrolet.

LaJoie replaced DiBenedetto in the No. 32 at Go Fas Racing and has a top finish of 18th. LaJoie has scored five more points than DiBenedetto had in the first four races last year with that team.

The teams that have not seen an increase of points so far compared to last year include two teams with rookies. Rookie Daniel Hemric replaced Newman at Richard Childress Racing and has scored 48 fewer points in the first four races than Newman did for that group last year. Rookie Ryan Preece has scored 12 fewer points in the No. 47 car for JTG Daugherty Racing than AJ Allmendinger had at this time last year.

The other driver move was Suarez taking over the No. 41 car for Stewart-Haas Racing and replacing Busch. Suarez has one top 10 so far but Busch had two top 10s at this time last year. Suarez has scored 40 fewer points than Busch did at this time last year.

2. Kyle Busch’s race to 200

A few numbers to digest in Kyle Busch’s quest for 200 NASCAR wins and more. He comes into this weekend with 199 and is entered in both the Xfinity and Cup races.

— Busch has 199 NASCAR wins in 996 starts (a 20 percent winning percentage)

— Busch has 494 top-five finishes in those 996 starts, scoring a top five in 49.6 percent of his starts.

— Busch’s 199 career NASCAR wins have come on 28 different tracks. Among the tracks he’s won at that are no longer on the NASCAR circuit are Lucas Oil Raceway (three wins), Nashville Superspeedway (three) and Mexico City (one).

— The most victories Busch has had in one season in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks was 24 in 2010.

— Busch has won a NASCAR race in 21 different states and Mexico. The most victories Busch has had in any one state is Tennessee. He’s won 24 races there.

3. So far so good on inspection

This year marks the first time in the past three seasons that a Cup car was not penalized for an inspection violation after the race.

NASCAR announced before the season that any car that failed inspection would be dropped to last in the order. Any winning car that fails inspection will have that victory taken away.

So far, no team has been given such a penalty in Cup, Xfinity or the Truck series.

That’s quite an accomplishment in Cup. Each of the past two years saw at least one team penalized for a violation discovered after the race in the first four events of the season.

In March 2018, NASCAR fined crew chief Rodney Childers $50,000, suspended car chief Robert Smith two Cup races, docked Kevin Harvick 20 points and the team 20 owner points for a violation with the rear window brace that was discovered after Harvick’s win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Harvick also lost all seven playoff points he earned — five for winning the race and two for each stage victory.

In March 2017, NASCAR suspended crew chief Paul Wolfe three races and fined him $65,000 when Brad Keselowski’s car failed inspection after the race at ISM Raceway. NASCAR also docked Keselowski 35 points and the team 35 owner points. NASCAR penalized the team for failing the rear wheel steer on the Laser Inspection Station.

NASCAR also penalized Harvick’s team after that same race for an unapproved track bar slider assembly. NASCAR suspended Childers one race and fined him $25,000. Harvick was docked 10 points and the team lost 10 owner points.

4. One or the other

Since NASCAR created the West Coast swing in 2016, Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr. have managed to win at least once in those three races.

They’ll need to win this weekend at Auto Club Speedway to keep that streak going. Joey Logano won at Las Vegas to begin this year’s swing. Kyle Busch won last weekend at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

5. Extra work

ThorSport Racing drivers Matt Crafton, Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes and Myatt Snider will be racing this weekend even though the Gander Outdoors Truck Series is off.

They’ll compete for Ford Performance and Multimatic Motorsports in Friday’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Sebring International Raceway. Crafton and Enfinger will be paired on the No. 22 team, while Snider and Rhodes will drive the No. 15 entry. Their race lasts two hours.

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