NASCAR stock market: Ups and downs heading to Kansas

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On a recent edition of the “Positive Regression” podcast, racing analytics expert David Smith and broadcaster Alan Cavanna asked what was the third-best team in Cup behind those of Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.

It was an interesting discussion with no clear-cut answer as they examined the pros and cons of Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

It showed how up-and-down this season has been with teams struggling to find consistency in a time where there is no practice. You might see one driver rival Hamlin and Harvick for a couple of weeks and then be replaced by someone else before they fade back to the field.

MORE: NASCAR to speak to driver for “very poor decision” at Texas

MORE: Cup Series playoff grid after Texas

Cup teams again will have no practice before they race Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Kansas Speedway. NASCAR is not scheduled to have any practice for Cup teams for the next month.

Logano won two of the season’s first four races but then struggled after the series returned in May. His third-place finish Sunday at Texas was his best result since winning at Phoenix in March — the last Cup race before the season was suspended for 10 weeks by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s harder to recover,” Logano said about when teams fall behind the top teams. “When I said lost puppy, that’s what we are, that’s what we were. You don’t have a chance to fix anything, right? You get done with the race, this, this, and this we need to make better on the racecar at least. We’ll try this, this and this next week, but it’s a different track. We’ll go and race, have no practice. Who knows if we’re going to make it better or worse, right? How do you find direction out of that?

“That’s where practice was so important. You could go out there, make a run, make one change, go back out and say, ‘Was that better or worse? Now we’re done with the race, we have things we want to fix. Let’s go to a track that’s nowhere near the same as we just went to and make some changes to our car and tell me if it’s better or not.

“You can’t. You can’t. You only can tell just by overall finish compared to the field. That’s kind of what we worked on. Seems like there was some progress made.”

Lack of practice is something Kyle Busch has mentioned as to why he’s winless in 18 Cup races this year. He also has yet to win a stage this season and has no playoff points. Last year at this time, he had a series-high 25 playoff points. At this time in 2018, he had a series-high 30 playoff points.

Level of respect declining in Xfinity?

It has been a question asked throughout this season as more incidents take place on the track. The Xfinity Series is back on track at 5 p.m. ET Saturday at Kansas Speedway on NBCSN.

Last weekend at Texas saw Noah Gragson, who has already had issues with Myatt Snider, Harrison Burton and teammate Justin Allgaier this season, run up on the back of Riley Herbst, making contact and causing Herbst to crash before the race was six laps old. Herbst said afterward that he “got absolutely drove through” by Gragson.

“I don’t get it,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said on the broadcast after the incident. “I just don’t get it. Five laps into the race why you have to be that aggressive on a slick race track with Riley in front of him. I know Noah didn’t drive in there with the intention of wrecking (Herbst) … but definitely pushing the issue early.”

Said NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also is Gragson’s car owner, on the broadcast: “To me, it looks like Noah got in the back of (Herbst) and didn’t give him a break. Just ran into the back of him. … I’ve got to put that on Noah. This early in the race Noah had a chance to cut that 18 a break.”

Kyle Busch says he’s seen a big change in the Xfinity Series in how drivers race each other.

“Nobody races with respect anymore,” Busch said after last weekend’s race at Texas. “They all just run as hard as you can every lap and when you’re running on ovals and stuff like that, you have to give room and you have to be courteous sometimes.

“Yeah, there’s going to be times you have to run hard, but other times where – like I was getting blocked down the back straightaway today by (Anthony Alfredo) on the second restart or something like that. What are we doing? It’s a long way from the end of the race and if you want a crashed car right now, I’ll give you one and you won’t even make it to the end of the race. I guess that’s what everybody else is kind of thinking too.”

Ross Chastain, who has built a reputation as someone who is hard to pass, says losing any positions can be too difficult to overcome in the shorter races.

“Track position is key in any series now,” Chastain said. “I definitely think there are some things that I’ve had some run-ins with and we agree to disagree on about everything. That’s just part of it.”

Busch said he understands that “you try to make it as hard on your competition as you can possibly can” but there are times to be smart about it.

“I learned from the likes of Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart and Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon and in that era,” Busch said. “Let’s call in the late 90s, early 2000s that it seemed like respect was a big deal on the racetrack and then you just started to get more and more call them kids that come on here and they beat and bang on short tracks in late models and K&N and ARCA and stuff like that and they just keep bringing it up into these levels.

“I don’t think they have a whole (lot of) respect for the equipment that they’re in sometimes because many of them have probably never worked on them before. They just pick up another ride and go on to the next year and run that stuff and then go on and move on.

“It’s just about trying to figure it out and pick and choose your battles. That’s typically what it boils down to. I certainly made poor decisions in the past and kind of still do sometimes today. You have to be smart as much as you can.”

Starting lineup draw Wednesday

NASCAR will set the starting lineup for the Cup race with a random draw on Wednesday.

Since replacing Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer in the top 12 in owner points — and eligible for starting positions 1-12 in the random draw — Almirola has started in the top five all four times the random draw was used. Almirola started on the pole last weekend at Texas.

Bowyer became eligible for starting positions 13-24 since he fell into that group in owner points. In the four races the random draw has been used, Bowyer has started 18th, 22nd, 15th and 17th.

The way that the draw is for the top 12 it basically just protects those guys and makes it virtually impossible for anybody outside of that to capitalize on that first stage, which puts them in a really good position points wise for the rest of the race,” Bowyer said. “Furthermore, it puts you in a situation to have to try to gamble either at the tail end of that first stage or throughout that second stage to try to capitalize off some points, whether it be that second stage or set yourself up for the end of the race.

“Anytime you go to gamble we all know that it can either win or lose big. Nine times out of 10 the house wins from what I can see. So, I am kind of frustrated in a sense that I feel like over the last month and a half we have had a lot better runs than our stats show.”

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Myrtle Beach Speedway moves one step closer to shutting down

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One of the oldest and longest operating tracks in NASCAR and other racing series is one step closer to shutting its doors forever.

The Horry County Council in South Carolina passed the first reading of a rezoning request Tuesday night that will likely lead to Myrtle Beach Speedway being redeveloped into a commercial and residential development, per a story by the Myrtle Beach Sun News/MyrtleBeachOnline.com.

The rezoning request needs two more readings in front of the Council before approval would be given to complete the sale of the speedway property. Including the track, the overall size of the property is about 45.5 acres and worth about $2.17 million, per the Sun News.

The .538-mile paved oval was built in 1958 and has operated for the past 62 years. Because its rezoning and sale are expected to be approved, the track has set August 15 as its “farewell race,” according to the Sun News. However, the track’s web site still lists events into early December.

This past February, track owner Bob Lutz, who purchased the property in 2012, said operating the facility continues to be a money losing proposition, according to the Sun News.

“(Closing the track) isn’t an easy decision to do that but the problem is it’s getting harder and harder for short tracks to survive, and the reason why is because we’re just not getting the attendance that they used to years ago,” Lutz told the Sun News in February. “It makes it hard, because you struggle and do everything you can. I think me and my team have shown that we have put 100 percent effort into building the speedway and making it successful and making it a great place for people to race at, and even though we’ve put in all the effort it still continues to lose money.”

NASCAR has a long history with the track, including holding events in Cup (1958-65) and the Xfinity Series (1988-2000). Since then, the facility has hosted a number of races across a variety of racing series.

Drivers who have raced at Myrtle Beach over the years include NASCAR On NBC and 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Dale Earnhardt Jr. (see video above of his race there in 1999); NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ned Jarrett and Dale Jarrett; Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler and NASCAR On NBC analyst Jeff Burton.

Speedway general manager Steve Zacharias, who has been at the track for nearly a decade, had previously told the Sun News that he and two partners have agreed to purchase Florence (S.C.) Motor Speedway and essentially move racing operations to there from Myrtle Beach Speedway.

Plans are for the new ownership group to hold its first race at Florence Motor Speedway on September 4, according to the Sun News.

As for Myrtle Beach Speedway, it’s a bittersweet ending for Lutz.

“It is so expensive to operate a facility like that, we continue losing money year after year and just at some point you have to say we tried with everything we possibly could and realize that without people in the stands you’re never going to be able to survive,” Lutz told the Sun News in February. “So the people that say, ‘Why is it going away?’ and ‘We wish it would stay,’ I wish those people would support us week after week and we wouldn’t have to do this.”

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Aric Almirola’s team ‘has been on it’ amid top-five steak

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While Kevin Harvick got all the glory with his win Sunday in the Brickyard 400, he wasn’t the only member of Stewart-Haas Racing who left the track with something to smile about.

Harvick led a team effort that saw three SHR cars finish in the top five for the first time this year and for the fourth time in team history.

Finishing third was Aric Almirola, who overcame an early unscheduled pit stop for a tire vibration that briefly sent him a lap down. He scored his fifth consecutive top-five finish. Almirola entered this season having never earned consecutive top fives in his Cup career.

“We had such a fast race car and we kept getting behind the eight-ball because we kept having to pit for vibrations, but so proud of (crew chief) Mike Bugarewicz and this whole race team,” Almirola told NBC. “Just really proud of our race team. Five top fives in a row. We’re so consistent and when you run that consistently in the top five we’ll win races. … We just ran five top fives in a row at racetracks that are probably my worst racetracks statistically (Miami, Talladega, Pocono and Indianapolis). We’re going to some racetracks that are really good for me — Kentucky, Loudon, Bristol for the All-Star Race, so I’m excited for these next stretch of races. This team has been on it.”

Rounding out the top five was rookie Cole Custer, who earned his first Cup Series top five in his 19th start.

His previous best finish this season was ninth at Phoenix.

“It is awesome to have all of SHR running well here at Indy,” Custer told NBC. “It is (co-owner) Tony’s (Stewart) backyard so it is a huge race for us. For us, our team, this package has been exactly the opposite of what I am used to driving. For it to all come together today means a lot. … I am psyched. I am really happy we finally had it all come together.”

Why are things starting to come together for Custer through 16 races in his rookie season?

“I think it is just that I am getting better with the cars and knowing what to expect when we go to the track and getting better at what to bring in the cars to the track,” Custer said. “It is a work in progress and having no practice doesn’t help that. I think it is all starting to come to us.”

On the overtime restart to end the race, Custer restarted in the second row behind Harvick and helped push him to the lead.

“Cole had a great restart, got attached to my bumper,” Harvick said. “We were clear before we got to Turn 1. At that point you have clean air, and those guys were side‑by‑side. We were able to break away right there. Definitely Cole was a huge part of helping us win this race at the end.”

Almirola said he was “really proud” of Custer.

“I think he’s been learning the ropes,” Almirola said. “He’s figured out that the jump from Xfinity to Cup is a big jump. He’s doing a great job. He’s learning. He’s bringing cars home in one piece. He’s continuing to build and get better.”

Sunday’s performance by SHR and Harvick’s win capped off a memorable doubleheader weekend for the team. On Saturday, Chase Briscoe won the inaugural Xfinity Series race on the Indy road course for his fifth win of the year.

Chase Briscoe wins inaugural Xfinity race on Indy road course

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INDIANAPOLIS — Chase Briscoe had been practicing on a simulator since February for Saturday and he survived a four-car battle for the lead in the final laps to win Saturday’s inaugural Xfinity race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. 

The Indiana native scored his fifth series win in 13 races this season, becoming only the second driver in series history to win as many races in the same time frame. Sam Ard holds the record with six wins in the first 13 races of the season.

MORE: Race results 

Briscoe celebrated Saturday’s victory with his team by climbing the fence, just as Tony Stewart used to do. Briscoe and the team also kissed the bricks at the start/finish line.

“Everybody knows that I grew up and my hero in racing was Tony Stewart,” Briscoe said. “To get to drive for him and watch him win the Brickyard, (climbing the fence) was always his signature thing and I just wanted to do it. Obviously it is not the same prestige as winning on the oval, but you still won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

Justin Haley, who also is from Indiana, finished second. Noah Gragson was third and followed by AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric.

“I think we saw that the racing was amazing,” Haley said.

Briscoe earned the win by outbraking Allmendinger into Turn 1 to take the lead with two laps to go. The top four cars ran two abreast through Turns 1 and 2. Briscoe kept the lead and pulled away as Allmendinger and Cindric made contact racing for second.

“I think today is a statement win,” Briscoe said. “I don’t think anybody had us as a favorite today with Allmendinger and Cindric in the field but we knew down deep we could run with those guys.”

Cindric’s race took a turn when NASCAR penalized him for jumping the restart. Cindric was furious on the radio about the penalty, saying Riley Herbst pushed him but that didn’t matter to series officials. Cindric was leading by the time the penalty was called and fell back to 31st by the time he serve his penalty by driving through pit road on Lap 31.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Austin Cindric

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Justin Haley’s runner-up finish is his best result in six road course events. … Preston Pardus finished 10th in his third career start. … Jade Buford finished 14th in his Xfinity Series debut.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: It’s hard to say that a sixth consecutive top-five at a road course is a bad race, but Austin Cindric, one of the favorites, was penalized for jumping a restart, had a slow pit stop when he parked his car too close to pit wall and lost positions later when a tire changer had trouble removing a wheel. … Brandon Jones finished 37th.

NOTABLE: All seven of Chase Briscoe’s Xfinity Series wins have come on different tracks.

NEXT: The series races Thursday at Kentucky Speedway, the first of back-to-back night races there for the series.

Indy provides a treasure trove of memories for Cup drivers

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The memories range from sitting on the couch to a father/son trip and from hearing a grown man say “here kitty, kitty, kitty” to seeing that same man climb a fence.

Regardless the recollection, the memories all point to one location.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As the track prepares to host a historic doubleheader on its road course with the NTT IndyCar Series (noon ET Saturday on NBC) and the Xfinity Series (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC) and then host the Cup Series on the oval (4 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), Cup drivers shared some of the special memories they have of the famed speedway.

One of the memories that stands out to Jimmie Johnson, a four-time Indy winner making his final Cup appearance at the track, is watching the 1982 Indianapolis 500. That race that saw A.J. Foyt exit early because of a mechanical issue and then take a hammer at his car to fix the issue. But it was more than that moment that remains with Johnson. 

“I was on the couch with my father and grandfather,” Johnson told NBC Sports of that day. “Their opinion of A.J. and how he handled the situation and took the bull by the horns. (It was) like a guy/man moment with my father and grandfather watching (Foyt) work on his car like he did. I have a lot of warmth inside of me when I think of that moment.”

For 2013 Brickyard 400 winner Ryan Newman, who grew up about 150 miles north of the speedway, his first memory of the track was when he was in grade school and his father took him to the Indianapolis 500. It was rare to have a free weekend even then because Newman often was racing quarter midgets. Only thing is, Newman didn’t see the race. The race was rained out. The experiences there would get better, especially in 2013 when he won from the pole. “That was an amazing weekend,” he said.

Tony Stewart climbed the fence after his 2005 Indy win. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

Joey Logano, who seeks his first Brickyard 400 win after finishing second there last season, thinks back to the 2007 race. As Tony Stewart chased Kevin Harvick for the lead, Stewart keyed his radio and said “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” It was a line Stewart used from time to time when he had a strong car and was closing on the leader. Most times Stewart celebrated a win after uttering that line on the radio during a race.

Stewart is at the center of the memories for William Byron, who won the 2017 Xfinity race at the Indy. Byron recalls the first time Stewart won the Brickyard 400 in 2005. Stewart celebrated by climbing the fence. “I thought he was going to fall,” Byron said. “The fans were going crazy. … It was such an awesome moment.”

For Kevin Harvick, who won the Brickyard 400 in 2003 and last year, many early memories center around Rick Mears, who also is from Bakersfield, California. Mears is one of three men to win the Indianapolis 500 four times. 

“As a kid it was always a dream to go to Indianapolis and race IndyCars,” Harvick told NBC Sports. “Going to Indianapolis and racing stock cars is still a huge thrill for me. To go there and race on the racetrack that was your childhood hero’s place to be successful and really make a name for himself, to go there and and do that for yourself is pretty special.

“Sometimes you just have to kind of pinch yourself and say, ‘Man am I really living all that out?’ Being able to win at Indy a couple of times now and to win last year, for the first time with the whole family there and to have that iconic picture of the trophy and my family … is something that you can’t replace.”

For others, the memories that stand out are when they got on track at Indy.

“You’ve got to pinch yourself every now and then the first couple of laps around Indy because you’re like this is pretty damn cool,” Corey LaJoie said.

Kurt Busch during the 2014 Indy 500. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Kurt Busch, who will make his 700th career Cup start Sunday at Indianapolis, competed in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and then the Coca-Cola 600 later that day.

His Indy experience was special but he admits that his laps around the speedway in an IndyCar during qualifying remain vivid.

“Going 230 miles an hour for four laps,” Busch told NBC Sports, “why I decided I was going to jump into an IndyCar I’ll never really quite understand other than I wanted to challenge myself and I wanted to go fast.”