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Monster Energy Open: Larson, Wallace, Byron, Bowman advance to All-Star Race

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MONSTER ENERGY OPEN UPDATE — CONCLUSION OF RACE:

Kyle Larson dominated the final stage of the Monster Energy Open to advance to tonight’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I had to be patient,” Larson told Fox Sports 1. “I knew I had a really good car so I didn’t want to put myself in a bad spot and get damage like other guys did in the segments.

“Hopefully, we can give ourselves a good shot and clean up our act in the next hour or so (when the All-Star Race begins).

Click here for full race results.

Larson joins Stage 2 winner Bubba Wallace and Stage 1 winner William Byron in transferring into the All-Star Race. A fourth driver, Alex Bowman, also advances to the All-Star Race by virtue of winning the Fan Vote.

Larson briefly had a challenge by Ty Dillon in the 10-lap final stage, but then pulled away and won uncontested.

Dillon finished second, followed by Bowman, Matt DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Preece, Paul Menard, David Ragan, Corey LaJoie and Michael McDowell.

The All-Star Race is slated to begin shortly after 8 p.m. ET.

MONSTER ENERGY OPEN UPDATE — END OF STAGE TWO:

Bubba Wallace held off a late charge by Daniel Suarez — sending the latter spinning after colliding — and Kyle Larsen in Stage 2 of the Monster Energy Open to advance to the NASCAR All-Star Race later tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Wallace joins Stage 1 winner William Byron in advancing to the All-Star Race. One final stage remains in the Open.

“This has been tough and I’ve been feeling like a failure for a really long time, I didn’t give a damn out there,” Wallace told Fox Sports 1. “I love Suarez to death but he knows what’s on the line. … We needed this. I needed this.”

Like Stage 1, the scheduled 20-lap Stage 2 went into overtime. Ryan Preece and pole-sitter Daniel Hemric collided with two laps remaining, bringing out the caution.

Stage 2 ultimately went 25 total laps, including five laps of overtime. Kyle Larson finished second, followed by Suarez, Ty Dillon and David Ragan.

Sixth through 10th were Matt DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Preece, Corey LaJoie and Alex Bowman

One final stage — a 10-lap shootout — remains in the Open. The winner of the final stage will also advance to the All-Star Race. A fourth driver will also advance by winning the Fan Vote.

MONSTER ENERGY OPEN — END OF STAGE 1

William Byron bumped his way into tonight’s NASCAR All-Star Race, bumping and then passing Bubba Wallace in the final turn to take Stage 1 of the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway and will advance into the NASCAR All-Star Race later tonight.

Due to a caution late in Stage 1 when B.J. McLeod‘s car started smoking heavily, the scheduled 20 laps of Stage 1 went 27 laps. Byron was fourth when the white flag fell on the 24-driver Open field and was able to get by Wallace at the start-finish line to take the checkered flag.

“It was just crazy, the seas just parted for us,” Byron told Fox Sports 1. “It feels awesome to be in the All-Star Race. It’s a huge accomplishment for myself and Chad (crew chief Chad Knaus) has been here a number of times. It feels good.”

Two more stages remain: the 20-lap Stage 2 and the final 10-lap Stage 3 (the race winner). The winners of Stage 2 and the overall race winner will then join Byron in advancing to the All-Star Race.

A fourth driver will transfer to the All-Star Race by virtue of winning the fan vote.

Wallace finished second in Stage 1, followed by Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Alex Bowman.

Sixth through 10th were pole-sitter Daniel Hemric, Matt DiBenedetto, Paul Menard, David Ragan and Ryan Preece.

We’ll have the results of Stage 2 and the overall full results of the Open after their completion.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Daniel Hemric wins pole for Monster Energy Open

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CONCORD, N.C. – Daniel Hemric backed up his fast time in practice to win the pole for Saturday night’s Monster Energy Open.

The Open is for all cars not qualified for Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star Race.

The three stage winners and the winner of the fan vote will advance from this race to the All-Star Race.

Hemric won the pole with a lap of 182.168 mph. He was followed by Michael McDowell (181.226 mph), William Byron (181.093), Daniel Suarez (181.044) and Paul Menard (180.662).

“We came here with a mindset as a company that we need to have a really fast race car,” Hemric said.

Click here for qualifying results

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing cars fast in opening Cup practice at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. – Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer took the top three spots in the first Cup practice Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The session was open for all cars, regardless of if they were competing in the All-Star Race or Monster Energy Open on Saturday.

Almirola posted a lap of 181.360 mph. He was followed by Harvick (179.581 mph), Bowyer (178.915), Kyle Busch (178.778) and Paul Menard (178.696).

Click here for practice report

Harvick and Alex Bowman each ran the most laps at 44. Bowman was 20th on the speed chart with a top lap of 177.311 mph.

Harvick had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 178.481 mph. He was followed by Erik Jones (177.525 mph) and Bowyer (177.232).

There were no incidents in the session.

Brad Keselowski was the slowest of the 39 cars on track. He had steering issues and ran only five laps in the session.

Final practice for cars in the Monster Energy Open will be from 1:05 – 1:55 p.m. ET. Final practice for cars in the All-Star Race will be from 2:05 – 2:25 p.m. Cars in the All-Star Race then will have pit practice afterward to prepare for Friday night’s qualifying format that includes a pit stop.

What Drivers Said after Gander RV 400 at Dover

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Here’s what drivers said after Monday’s Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway:

Martin Truex Jr. – winner: “It feels incredible. So thankful for this team. What a race car we had today. This SiriusXM Camry was just incredible. Thank you to everyone back at the shop at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), Bass Pro, Auto Owners, everybody who supports us and makes this happen. We have one hell of a team and we came here with a new setup this time. We had an older setup that won in 2016 and had been good but not good enough. Hats off to Cole (Pearn, crew chief), James (Small, engineer) and everyone with TRD (Toyota Racing Development, U.S.A.) back in California, Costa Mesa for awesome engines and horsepower. Thanks to all these fans that have come out today on Monday. I promise it wasn’t easy. It was a lot of work. It was tough. But this race car was just incredible. Just thanks to everyone who makes this possible. I can’t believe it. Without Talladega, we would have had two in a row. It is special. New guys this year. Coach (Joe Gibbs, team owner) has put together a good bunch and Cole (Pearn, crew chief) and everybody. I am really, really proud to drive these Toyotas. They are awesome and I am a lucky guy. (What has started to click for you guys?) I think just putting all the details together. We’ve had speed all year. Finished second at Atlanta. Felt like we had the best car. Had some issues on pit road. Phoenix we ran second again. Seems like we were having little hiccups here and there. Now we’re starting to not only make our cars a little bit faster, show up better on Fridays, we’re a step ahead on the weekend. The pit crew is really doing a great job. That’s been the difference. We had a lot of trouble in the pits earlier in the year, didn’t get to show our speed. The guys are coming together, gelling, doing a fine job. We were able to take advantage of fast race cars today.”

Alex Bowman – finished second: “I’m worn out. This is the physically hardest race of the year for me, for sure. We at least had a shot at it. That’s really all you can ask for. Congrats to Martin Truex, Jr. Our Nationwide Small Business Chevy was really good. Cool deal they’ve got going on. A small business owner can enter to win a $100,000, so that’s a pretty neat promotion for them. I’m still proud of (crew chief) Greg Ives and everybody on this No. 88 team. We had a miserable start to the season and we did a really good job of resetting over the off-weekend. We’ve come out strong since then. … It would be better if we had a trophy, right? But, we needed this, for sure. Talladega is a speedway and it’s a lot of luck involved. But to come here to, in my opinion the hardest race track we go do, and run like that from the back of all things, was pretty special. I’m just proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for all the improvement we’ve made over the last year or so and we’re going to keep it going.”

Kyle Larson – finished third: “Oh, yeah, we ran inside the Top 5 all race long. We fought tight early-on, with our Credit One Bank Chevy, but we freed it up and got it to where I felt like I was pretty good. And in the last run there, after cycling through green-flag stops, I was really loose and got stuck in traffic and then was just looser in the dirty air. So, I had to just make sure I hit the bottom lap after lap to hold (Kevin) Harvick off. So, it was good to finally have a clean race. I don’t think we’ve had a clean weekend all year long. And we’re 11 weeks into the season. So, it’s good to finally get a clean day, like I said, and thanks to our race team. Our pit crew did a good job today as well. It was a nice day.”

Kevin Harvick — finished fourth: “As you look at the cars behind each other, especially there at the end, there was hardly anybody who could pass anybody. You lose so much downforce behind each other every week that, from a driver’s standpoint, it becomes frustration. It’s difficult to maneuver your car to make up positions, because they become so aero-bad behind each other. Our guys on our Jimmy John’s Ford did a good job today, we just got super tight the last run stuck behind the 42 (Kyle Larson). We just couldn’t go anywhere.”

Chase Elliott – finished fifth: We just fell off there at the end of that second Stage. That was the time of the race that we needed to be controlling it and not falling back. Just a bad time to have a bad half of a run and that is kind of what happened. So, we were fast, just not fast enough when it really mattered. … (Truex) was really good there at the end for sure. His car came on about the time I felt our car was starting to fall off. And hey, that is what pays. It was a tough race for sure. It was a very physical event, a lot of corner speed, which is hard on us for sure.”

Erik Jones – finished sixth: “We had really good speed in the Sport Clips Camry. We kind of rode around there all day in the top 10. We just couldn’t get the track position we needed to go and run up front. We felt like we were better than a couple in front of us. Just couldn’t quite get there. Just a long day. It was tough to pass and you really had to rely on track position and getting good restarts and getting good pit stops. A solid day for us. We have had some rough weeks, so to get back on track and run where we know we are fully capable of – good momentum and we are going to Kansas next week which has been a good place for us the past few times.” (Define ‘hard to pass’) It seemed like the bottom groove was preferred by a lot and it was tough to get up and make a move in the middle. It was hard to get some speed rolling there, especially if you had someone behind you. It felt like they would kind of snooker you and put you back another spot. It was just tough to make moves and it was tough to be aggressive and find a way to pass. Just tough all day.”

Joey Logano — finished seventh: “We made the most out of our day today for sure. We took a seventh-place car and won a stage, got a playoff point, and racked up some more stage points. We maximized what we could do. I’m happy with how the Shell-Pennzoil team performed. We were solid in the pits. It was a physical race out there for sure. This is one of the toughest places for a driver to race. I’m proud of my team.”

William Byron – finished eighth:Yeah, we had the strategy deal where we took two tires and got some Stage points. And then we had to start at the back, and ultimately we were clawing our way back the whole race. We finished behind the 22, and we both started in the back, which was unfortunate. The guys brought a really fast car that was a lot of fun. (Compare the race to last year) It was really hard to pass. Coming from the back the one time, it took me the whole race to get back there. The 22 and us worked our way back from wherever we were at the end of Stage 2, and then it took another 130 laps to kind of get any farther. That was unfortunate, but he could run the top which is nice. (Was that due to the package this year?) I don’t know. It might have just been me, but it was hard to pass anyone on the bottom and really defend significantly on the bottom. I don’t think I passed many guys on the bottom all day, if we were both running bottom/bottom. If they ran up a car length, I could get enough air that I could. But the only passes I made really all day were on top.”

Clint Bowyer — finished ninth: “It was kind of a frustrating day. We were OK. I think anyone who got in the top-five was going to stay there. We lost track position on the first pit stop and never really regained any of it. It was just really tough to pass today.”

Kyle Busch – finished 10th: “I kind of thought we were off as a program but obviously the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.) won the race. We were probably going to end up about eighth but then I got into the wall at the start of the last stage so after that I was just sort of hanging on with my Pedigree Camry. It would have been nice to run better. It would have been nice to lead laps. When you run better you have something to hang your hat on so we obviously have some work to do before we come back here in the fall.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 11th: “It was a tough day for us here at Dover. The cars were really fast at this track today. Last year they weren’t, but obviously it was a different rules package. I had very high expectations coming into this race because I’ve run so well here in the past, and Stewart-Haas Racing has, too. I just couldn’t get the Haas Automation Mustang to turn like I wanted it to. We probably had an eighth- to 12th-place car today and we finished 11th.”

Brad Keselowski — finished 12th: “Not the result we wanted today with our Miller Lite Ford. I was just super-tight on corner exit during that last long green flag run. We lost track position and couldn’t get it back.”

Ryan Blaney — finished 15th: “It was a long day for our Menards/Duracell team. We were struggling especially with our Mustang being too tight on corner exit and couldn’t seem to get it where we needed. I want to thank the pit crew. Those guys had a great day and it seemed like they picked up positions every time we pitted. We know we have some work to do when we come back to Dover in the fall.”

Aric Almirola — finished 16th: “We struggled today, to say the least. This is probably one of the most track position-dependent tracks we go to, and we started off the race running fifth and the next thing you know we’re running 13th. We just never could recover from that. It wasn’t easy to make passes even when we were in the postion to do so, and it turned into a long day for us. But our Smithfield team is strong, and we’ve got another chance next week at Kansas to show everyone what we’ve got.”

Austin Dillon — finished 19th: “Our 19th-place finish at Dover today wasn’t indicative of the fight this team showed all race long. The No. 3 AAA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 started off the day tight on exit and stayed that way until the end of the Stage 1. My pit crew did a great job when we pitted on Lap 105 during the caution and gained us several spots in the process to help us with track position. After that first stop, our No. 3 AAA Chevy really took off and felt it was in the best shape it had been all weekend. However, a few laps later, it became really free and I battled loose entry and exit throughout the rest of Stage 2. Unfortunately, this caused us to go a lap down and finish the stage in the 19th spot. The final stage began with several wedge and trackbar adjustments to try and dial in the No. 3 AAA Chevrolet. This helped out quite a bit until after the final green flag pit stop. Our Chevrolet tightened up right after that stop and was tough to handle for the rest of the race. Even though The Monster Mile was a beast today, I look forward to conquering it later in the year. For now, we’ll regroup as a team during this short week in order to get back on track for Kansas next weekend.”

Ty Dillon – finished 22nd:We didn’t really know what to expect coming into this weekend but speeds here were incredibly fast. It made the racing a lot more challenging in some ways, but we made it through with a good, clean race. My Twisted Tea team worked hard all weekend to get our Camaro ZL1 where we needed it to be. We went back and forth on the balance throughout the day, but I ended the race feeling pretty good about everything. I wish we could have cracked into the top 20, but I’m proud of the progress we’ve made as a team at this track. This was a solid race for us and a good day to keep 2019 going in a positive direction.”

Daniel Hemric — finished 23rd: “They call this place The Monster Mile for a reason, and it was a monster to us today. We fought the handling of the No. 8 Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 all weekend, but Luke Lambert and these guys didn’t give up on it and kept working from the time we unloaded and all throughout the race. We never did get it to where we needed it to be and then on top of that, we had to pit with less than 20 laps to go for a loose wheel. We will take what we learned today and make sure we are in a better spot coming back here in the fall. I have to say thanks to all of the fans that came back today after yesterday’s rain out. The crowd was impressive for a Monday race, and hopefully they enjoyed the show.”

We’ll have more driver quotes as they become available.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Friday 5: Is time running out for Cup playoff hopefuls?

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While the Cup playoff field won’t be set for another four months, there is a shrinking window for those not already in the top 16 in points as the series heads this weekend to Dover International Speedway.

Since 2017 — when stage racing and stage points were added — 84.3 percent of the drivers who were in a playoff spot after 10 races made the playoffs that year.

Take out those who already had wins to be playoff eligible at this point in the season and 81.8 percent of the remaining drivers in a playoff spot after 10 races made it to NASCAR’s postseason the previous two years.

That’s good news for the drivers in the top 16 in points now. Last weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway was the 10th of the Cup season.

What’s also telling is that 13 of last year’s 16 playoff drivers are in the top 16 at this point in the season. That’s despite rule changes intended to make the racing tighter and possibly give more drivers chances for better finishes or wins.

The three drivers in a playoff spot this year who were not in that position at this time last year are Chase Elliott (seventh in points this season), Daniel Suarez (12th) and Austin Dillon (14th). They replace Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who were all in a playoff spot at this time last year.

So far, those who have earned a playoff spot with a win this season (provided they start every race) are Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Elliott.

With NASCAR’s system of win and you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. A fuel-mileage race can create a surprise winner or a pit gamble can help someone score an unexpected victory. Maybe a rain-shortened race leads to a new winner.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Last season, no driver outside a playoff spot won any of the final 16 regular-season races.

In 2017, two drivers outside playoff spots won in the final 16 regular-season races to make the postseason. Dillon was 22nd in points entering the Coca-Cola 600 and won that race on a fuel-mileage gamble. Kasey Kahne was 22nd in points later that season entering the Brickyard 400. He won that race in the second overtime.

The question becomes how much will those not in a playoff spot now gamble to score a win and secure a spot instead of having to rely on points to make it? This will be worth watching in the coming weeks.

2. A year later

Talladega winner Chase Elliott has made the biggest jump in the standings compared to where he was after 10 races last year.

A year ago, Elliott was 18th. He is seventh this year, moving up 11 spots. Other big gainers among the top 30 from last year are: Daniel Suarez (up nine spots to 12th this year), Ty Dillon (up five spots to 22nd), Denny Hamlin (up four spots to third) and Austin Dillon (up three spots to 14th).

Those who have fallen the most this year from this point last season: Kyle Larson (dropped 11 spots to 21st), Clint Bowyer (down six spots to 10th this year), Bubba Wallace (down six spots to 28th this year), Erik Jones (down five spots to 18th this season) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (down five spots to 20th this season).

3. Familiar ground

It has been nearly two years since Jimmie Johnson last won a Cup race, but he’s back this weekend at Dover International Speedway, the site of his most recent victory.

Jimmie Johnson winning at Dover in 2017. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Johnson won his 83rd career Cup race June 4, 2017, at Dover to tie him with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the career victory list. That win was Johnson’s 11th at Dover, most of any driver.

In the 69 races since, Johnson has four top-five finishes and 21 top-10 finishes. He’s led 149 laps during that time. His best finish since that last win is third. He placed third at the fall Dover race in 2017 and third at the spring Bristol race last year. His best finish this season is fifth at Texas. He has four top-10 finishes in the first 10 races of this year.

“The first couple of downforce races we were not where we needed to be,” Johnson said of this season. “I think we’ve kind of rallied back and put some speed in our cars and are going the right way. Based on performance, I would say we are at a ‘C’ but I know the distance we’ve made up here recently.

“If there’s an effort score, I want to score my team really high because we’re working really hard to get there. But at the end of the day, the results are results and we know we’ve got to get better. I feel like we’re headed into ‘B’ territory right now.”

4. Tight rookie battle 

In the Xfinity Series, the rookie race features a tie for first. John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Briscoe are tied for first with 295 points each. Noah Gragson is third with 284 points. Justin Haley is next with 273 points. Brandon Brown completes the top five with 180 points.

5. All for some popcorn?

According to LehighValleyLive.com, two eighth graders have been accused of arson after lighting an abandoned building at Nazareth Speedway on fire last weekend.

Nazareth Speedway hosted what is now the Xfinity Series from 1988-2004 but has sat abandoned since. Martin Truex Jr. won the last NASCAR race there.

Police said that the boys, one age 14 and the other 15, showed up on Snapchat recorded by one of the boys at the scene as the fire burned. According to police, the story says that before the fire, one of the boys stole lighter fluid, a lighter and Jiffy Pop popcorn from a nearby supermarket. According to police, the boys attempted to heat the Jiffy Pop from the fire.

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