THE NASCAR X-FINITY SERIES … also competes at Watkins Glen with Saturday’s Zippo 200. Teams got two practice sessions on the newly paved road course on Thursday with Kyle Busch posting the fastest overall speed, 123.006 miles per hour. Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski and defending race winner Joey Logano followed on the speed chart as Sprint Cup drivers took the top four spots. Justin Allgaier completed the top five … Larson had the fastest average speed over ten consecutive laps, 122.552 miles per hour. Allgaier, Trevor Bayne, rookie Erik Jones and Darrell Wallace Junior took positions two through five.
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There are forty drivers on the preliminary entry list for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen Sprint Cup Series race led by defending winner Joey Logano and regular-season points leader Kevin Harvick. With just five races remaining in the regular season, five drivers have clinched spots on The Chase Grid – Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. Those five account for fourteen wins through the first twenty-one races of the year … Logano, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Junior, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher have one win apiece – leaving four post-season spots that will be available based on the point standings. Jamie McMurray currently holds a nine-point lead over Kyle Larson, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, in the fight for what would be the final “playoff” spot.
Chris Buescher scored his first career Sprint Cup Series win in Monday’s rain-delayed Pennsylvania 400 when the race was called due to fog and an approaching storm on lap 138. Buescher battled back from a cut tire under green that put him in the back and opened up the need for pit strategy on a day that every team was racing the weather as hard as any competitor. As a green flag cycle of pit stops was nearing its end, Buescher and his Front Row Motorsports team chose to stay out as fog begin to build around the track hopeful for a stoppage. That stoppage came when spotters no longer could see turn 1. The race was then called after an hour and 20 minute red flag where the cars ended up being covered up on pit road because of weather in the area. Brad Keselowski who had been on an off-sequence pit strategy all afternoon, finished second. Regan Smith, who also had yet to pit, finished third for his first top five since 2012, and first since joining Tommy Baldwin Racing at the start of the season. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart rounded out the top five. Joey Logano led a race high thirty-eight laps, but was forced to the garage for repairs on lap 106 after contact with Chase Elliott. Kyle Larson led thirty-seven laps and looked to have a car that would have competed for the win but fell back after contact with Austin Dillon while battling for the lead around the halfway mark. Larson would eventually work pit strategy to race back to finish sixth, while Dillon would finish thirteenth. The fast and furious racing to halfway and then to beat the impending weather produced nineteen lead changes among eleven drivers, and was slowed for caution seven times for thirty-one laps.
Next Stop is Pocono Raceway for Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400. With just six events remaining in the regular season, defending race winner Matt Kenseth is one of five drivers who’ve clinched spots on The Chase Grid – joining Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski in the sixteen-driver title field. Those five account for fourteen wins through the first twenty races of the year … Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Junior, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart have one win apiece – leaving five post-season spots available based on the point standings. Kyle Larson currently holds a ten-point lead over Kasey Kahne in the fight for what would be the final “playoff” spot.
THE NASCAR X-FINITY SERIES … also visits the famed Indy oval this weekend for Saturday’s Lilly Diabetes 250. Saturday’s race will be the final Dash 4 Cash race of the season offering four drivers the opportunity to win a one-hundred-thousand dollar bonus. For Ty Dillon it also is an opportunity to lock himself into the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase should he win the Dash 4 Cash by virtue of winning the bonus at Richmond. Winning the race would also snap a sixty-four race winless streak stringing back to his first series victory at Indianapolis in 2014. He will be up against tough competition, not only from the series regulars but also six Sprint Cup Series drivers who will be pulling double duty. Those drivers are Joey Logano, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Matt DiBenedetto and Kyle Busch, who was able to sweep the weekend last year.
Jimmie Johnson has joined Greg Biffle, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Junior, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, Kyle and Kurt Busch, and rookie Chase Elliott on the list of drivers newly eligible for next year’s Sprint Unlimited non-points special event as a result of their qualifying efforts in 2016. The non-points special event features pole winners from the previous season and traditionally kicks off Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway. Johnson earned the Number-1 starting spot for this past weekend’s race in New Hampshire with a lap of 133.971 miles per hour. He finished twelfth in Sunday’s race … Next stop in the Sprint Cup Series is this coming Sunday’s Crown Royal 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Matt Kenseth saved his best for last Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, snatching the lead from teammate Denny Hamlin thirty-one laps from the finish and keeping the Number-20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in front the rest of the way in posting his second win of the season and the thirty-eighth of his career. The margin of victory was two seconds over runner-up Tony Stewart. Joey Logano came home in third place with Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle completing the top five. Pole sitter Jimmie Johnson led only the first lap and finished twelfth. Sunday’s race was a day of domination for Toyota. The manufacturer led all but two of the 301 laps contested on the one-mile Loudon oval including a race-high 133 by Kyle Busch on the way to an eighth-place finish. He was seeking a weekend sweep after winning Saturday’s X-FINITY Series race. Busch dominated the early stages Sunday, leading all but fourteen of the first hundred laps. Martin Truex Junior was strong, running out front for 123 laps before a broken shifter and clutch problems forced him off the pace. He came out of New England with a sixteenth-place finish … The only non-Toyota drivers to lead Sunday’s race were Johnson and Brad Keselowski – who each led one lap on the way to finishes of twelfth and fifteenth, respectively … 23-year-old Alex Bowman placed twenty-sixth in the Number-88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He was subbing for Dale Earnhardt Junior, who sat out Sunday’s race with concussion-like symptoms after recent crashes at Michigan and Daytona. Earnhardt’s status for next weekend’s race at Indianapolis is uncertain … Sunday’s race included thirteen lead changes among six drivers.
Last Year’s Race: Kyle Busch’s mid-season march toward a post-season berth continued with his third victory in four races. The win lifted him from thirty-fifth to thirty-third in the point standings with seven races left in the regular season that would ultimately lead to a championship for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. Busch led ninety-five laps, including the final forty-nine trips around the one-mile oval. The race ended under caution for Alex Bowman’s single-car accident that took place in Turn-2 after Busch took the white flag. Brad Keselowski led a race-high 101 laps and finished second with Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano (Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate) and Dale Earnhardt Junior completing the top five … Pole sitter Carl Edwards led just nineteen laps and finished seventh … Busch was the ninth different winner in the last nine summertime races contested in New Hampshire dating back to 2007 … Denny Hamlin was going for a weekend sweep after winning the X-FINITY Series race twenty-four hours earlier but finished fourteenth on the Cup side. He was one of twenty drivers running on the lead lap with Busch at the checkered flag.
Track Position at Loudon: Twenty-three of the forty-two Sprint Cup Series races run have been won from a starting position of tenth or better. Ten winners have come from a starting position of twentieth or worse … Winning From the Pole in Loudon: Just five of forty-two Cup Series races have been won from the pole position, most recently by Ryan Newman in 2011 … Track Qualifying Record: Keselowski (Ford) … 140.598 miles per hour … 27.090 seconds … September 2014 … Track Record, Race Speed: Jeff Burton (Ford) … 117.134 mph … 2 hours, 42 minutes, 35 seconds … July 1997.
Practice Schedule: Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:55 p.m. (ET) … Saturday from 10 to 10:55 a.m. and 12:30 to 1:25 p.m. (ET) … Qualifying: TODAY at 4:45 p.m. (ET).
A number of NASCAR Sprint Cup teams took part in a two-day organizational test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday and Wednesday. The test was in advance of the Crown Royal presents the Wounded Warrior Coalition 400 to be held on July 24. Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, and Kevin Harvick were among those at the test that were consistently fast in each of the sessions. Two sessions were held on Tuesday, with teams working through the lunch break Wednesday due to a threat of weather in the area. Matt Kenseth who was second quickest in the opening session on Tuesday noted that the tire fall off was significant with the new lower downforce package being used this season and expected that fall off to translate to good racing. Others taking part in the test included Paul Menard, Joey Logano, Brian Scott, Chris Buescher, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. AJ Allmendinger and his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing team were originally scheduled to attend the test, but following two incidents on Saturday night in Kentucky that injured Allmendinger’s hand, the team passed on attending the test. Allmendinger has been cleared to return to NASCAR competition following an X-ray on Monday.
Brad Keselowski stretched his final fuel load right to the finish line to notch his third career Kentucky win and second straight victory of the season. The closing laps saw several teams try to stretch the final fuel run hoping for a caution, only to be forced to pit. Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. dominated the race leading a combined 174 laps but were among those who needed to pit for fuel finishing ninth and tenth respectively. Carl Edwards was also working fuel strategy and was able to run down Keselowski in the closing laps, but was not able to pass him and was forced to settle for second. Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart rounded out the top-five. The newly repaved and reconfigured surface of Kentucky Speedway proved to be a challenge to many drivers over the course of the evening. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the first driver to struggle with the new lower downforce aero package at the speedway, wrecking on lap nine. He was not the last, as a total of nine drivers would eventually be involved in accidents that brought about a track-record tying eleven cautions for fifty-three laps on the evening. Jimmie Johnson, who crashed his primary car in practice, saw a repeat performance in the race, spinning in turn-4 and making contact with the wall.
Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott also were involved in accidents throughout the evening. By virtue of his early departure, Ryan Blaney has now dropped out of the top-sixteen in Championship points which will place a great deal of pressure on the rookie driver in the final eight races of the regular season. Jeffery Earnhardt, who finished twenty-eighth, was the highest finishing rookie, on a night when many drivers struggled with the new track conditions.
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