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Bruce: XFINITY Chase intensity ratchets up aggression
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Chase Grid SPARTA, Ky. -- Was Saturday night's opening Chase race for NASCAR’s XFINITY Series an example of good, hard racing or a case of folks driving over their heads? That depends on who one asked afterward. Race winner Elliott Sadler wasn’t pointing fingers, and race winners have rarely been heard to utter a discouraging word. But the JR Motorsports driver said he did notice an uptick in intensity during the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway . "About halfway through the race, it was 'note to self; you can tell it's the Chase because it was caution after caution after caution," Sadler said afterward. "People were tense, eager, frustrated, nervous. A lot of different things going on with drivers right now ... trying to make it to the second (round). "I think people are giving each other less room. Restarts are crazy in the back." They were crazy up front, too. The race, which kicked off a seven-race, two-round elimination playoff for the series, saw the caution flag fly a track record 12 times. More than one-fourth of the race (64 laps) was run under the yellow. Yes, there was even a brief (5 min., 34 sec.) red-flag period. Erik Jones , the top seed and regular-season leader in race wins, got crossed up while racing with Ty Dillon and both the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota and the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet ended up in the wall. RELATED: See the wreck the caught two title contenders Each is now outside eighth place in points with two races to try and improve their standing; only the top eight (with the exception of a Chase race winner that might be 9th-12th ) advance to the second round. Not surprisingly, Jones wasn't particularly pleased with the early ending to his night and said later that the aggressive driving does cause one to approach the race differently. "Yeah, it makes me try to stay out of trouble," he said. "I didn't want to have something like that happen. ... You try to play defense some. I was for sure." Of course, there was the matter of a reconfigured track that sports new asphalt and distinctly different turns. That, too, played a role in the difficulties for some. And that was to be expected, said Brendan Gaughan , driver of the No. 62 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing . "It didn't seem like it was any more aggressive than normal," Gaughan said after finishing sixth. "It's a very narrow race track here right now. That Turn 3 is treacherous, man. There's no grip on the entry, there's no width on the entry. It's a treacherous, treacherous place at the moment. ... "It's still Kentucky. I love it." The fight to advance into the next round began early, but it's not the only battle going on and Saturday night's race brought some of that to light. In addition to the driver's championship, there's an owners title at stake and a couple of teams didn’t forget about that. At the end of the regular season, the No. 2 team of RCR was atop the owners' standings, followed by the No. 18 of Joe Gibbs Racing , the No. 1 of JRM with Sadler behind the wheel, and the No. 22 of Team Penske . Chevy, Toyota, Chevy and Ford. You think those folks aren't paying close attention? RCR brought in Sam Hornish Jr . to keep the No. 2 team in the hunt; Penske handed the reins to Sprint Cup driver Ryan Blaney . Sadler got the win, but a solid fifth-place run by Matt Tifft put the JGR No. 18 atop the owners' standings. JRM (No. 1) now sits second thanks to the victory while Hornish, who finished fourth, kept the RCR entry in the mix -- it's now third. Blaney did not fare badly but the way it all shook out left him third on the track and the team now fifth in the owners' battle. Dover, a fast, unforgiving mile of concrete, is up next. Some folks will be looking to rebound, some looking to continue to ride a hot start. If Kentucky was any indication, they better hope they can just hang on.
Furniture Row Racing: The story behind Denver's team
NASCAR senior writer Holly Cain, and NASCAR Productions, traveled to Denver , Colorado to present an in depth look at NASCAR's only team west of the Mississippi River, Furniture Row Racing, and their rise to racing success.
Heads up : Loudon and Kentucky weekend
Here are the hot topics, trending news and key story lines to get you ready for this weekend's races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway , including the Chase openers for the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. WEATHER The weekend forecast for Loudon, New Hampshire, looks mostly clear for on-track activity. Friday for Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole qualifying there is a 48 percent chance for precipitation. For the Camping World Truck race on Saturday, skies will be partly cloudy and the high is expected to be 64 degrees. And for the Sprint Cup race on Sunday, we're looking at clear skies and a high of 61. For Sparta, Kentucky, site of this weekend's XFINITY events, it will be clear and 89 degrees for the start of Friday's practices. And on Saturday it will be clear and 78 degrees for the start of the race. KEY TIMES Sprint Cup Series: The Sprint Cup Series holds its first practice Friday at 11:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN/NBC Sports App) followed by Coors Light Pole qualifying at 4:45 p.m. ET (NBCSN/NBC Sports App). The Bad Boy Off Road 300 is at 2 p.m. ET Sunday (NBCSN/NBC Sports App/PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). XFINITY Series: The XFINITY Series opens practice on Friday at 3:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN/NBC Sports App) and qualifies Saturday at 4:45 p.m. ET (NBCSN/NBC Sports App). The VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 is on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET (NBC/NBC Sports App). Camping World Truck Series: The Camping World Truck Series is scheduled for a Keystone Light Pole qualifying session at 10:10 a.m. ET on FS1 Saturday followed by the UNOH 175 race at 1 p.m. ET (FS1). CATCH DRIVERS LIVE We'll stream every driver press conference in the New Hampshire media center at NASCAR.com/presspass. Click here for a full schedule. Click here to tune into the live stream . LAST TIME In September of 2015, Matt Kenseth outlasted Kevin Harvick , who ran out of fuel with three laps to go, to capture the victory in the Sylvania 300 and punch his ticket to the second round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Kenseth backed up that win with another at New Hampshire in July of this season. In that one, Kenseth pulled away from Tony Stewart to win by 1.982 seconds. YOU SHOULD KNOW • Chris Buescher (-12 from 12th place), Kyle Larson (-2), Kevin Harvick (-1) and Austin Dillon (-1) are all on the outside looking in as far as the Chase Grid standings are concerned. Of those drivers, Harvick is the only one who owns a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at New Hampshire (fall of 2006). Harvick has finished in the top four in three of his past four races at Loudon, with the only exception being the 21st-place finish in the Chase race here last season. • New England native Joey Logano considers New Hampshire to be his home track and high on his list as far as valued victories. Logano has won here twice, in the 2014 Chase race and in 2009 when he notched his first-ever Sprint Cup Series victory as a member of Joe Gibbs Racing . At this time last year, Logano was hitting his stride in a season in which he captured six Sprint Cup victories. Although this season hasn't been as dominant, his second-place finish at Chicago gives him momentum coming into Sunday. • Erik Jones comes to Kentucky atop the Chase standings in the XFINITY Series thanks to his four victories this season. And chances are he'll get his Chase off to a good start there. In three races at Kentucky, Jones has an average finish of 4.7, and earlier this season, he finished fourth. Jones is trying to back up last year's Camping World Truck Series championship with an XFINITY title before moving to Sprint Cup with Furniture Row Racing next season. • Cole Custer is the only Camping World Truck Series regular who has a win at New Hampshire, but he's not in the Chase after his controversial run-in with John Hunter Nemechek at the end of the Sept. 4 race at Canadian Tire Motor Sport Park. Could Custer take out his frustrations on Nemechek now that the Chase in underway? We shall see. Interestingly, Nemechek's average finish of 5.0 (in two races) at New Hampshire is bested only by Johnny Sauter 's 4.8 (in five races) entering this weekend.
Monday on NASCAR.com: Denver's race team
NASCAR senior writer Holly Cain and NASCAR Productions traveled to Denver , Colorado, and spoke with the community that has embraced Furniture Row Racing. Stay tuned to NASCAR.com for the in-depth article and video on Monday, September 12th.
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Runner-up Bell: 'Just got to keep digging'
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Truck Chase Grid LOUDON, N.H. – Christopher Bell had what he described as a "good … no, great" truck after his second-place finish in Saturday's UNOH 175 Camping World Truck Chase opener at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . If Bell's No. 4 Toyota Tundra was "good … no, great," his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate William Byron's race-winning No. 9 entry was great … no, incredible. "All day long, we couldn't run with him and we had 175 (laps) to get it done and we didn't," Byron told NASCAR.com on pit road after the race. "I think he was fading there at the end and lapped traffic was not doing him any favors, so open race track (I probably couldn't have caught him), but the way it was, I maybe had a shot at it." The dominant showing in which KBM trucks led every single lap -- 161 for Byron, 11 for Bell and three for Cody Coughlin 's No. 51, which ran out of gas late – may very well clue us into half the battle contestants we'll be looking at in less than two months at Homestead-Miami Speedway when four drivers compete for the inaugural Camping World Truck Series Chase crown. Based on what we saw Saturday, you'd be hard-pressed to find a reason to not include the streaking Byron and Bell tag-team among the quartet. Byron no longer has to sweat the Chase wild card that looms at Talladega next month in the Round of 8 as he's clinched his berth to the next series of races, while Bell's next-best result puts him in good position to move on should a rare – for him – hiccup occur. In the following Round of 6, it could be the No. 4 driver's time to land in Victory Lane for the second time this season. Bell picked up his second career Camping World Truck Series victory earlier this season at Gateway Motorsports Park and showed his strength at the "Magic Mile," two tracks similar in length and build to the penultimate race at Phoenix International Raceway . "(The similarities between here and Gateway) kind of, maybe (helped)," Bell said. "Gateway was not a race track that I had circled on my schedule that I thought I would have a possible win at, so to come here and be as good as we were, I think it's just a testimony to my crew chief, Jerry (Baxter). He does an awesome job, especially at these flat tracks where he has it all figured out." And don't expect the nerves to get in the way, as the 21-year-old was unfazed by any pressure that came along with Saturday marking the landmark first-ever Chase for the series, approaching it like any other race. "I think it was probably pretty similar (to what I was expecting). You just gotta treat these things the same," Bell said. "All these races are important; you never come out here to finish second. "Just gotta keep digging and pay attention and not make mistakes."
Late wreck hinders Chase position for Jones, Dillon
RELATED: Results " Chase Grid " Standings MORE: Watch the incident " Dillon talks about the wreck SPARTA, Ky. -- Erik Jones looked every bit the part of a pre-Chase favorite Saturday at Kentucky Speedway until a crash with barely more than 10 laps remaining took the Joe Gibbs Racing driver out of contention. Jones led exactly one-half of the 200 laps that made up the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 . But the field had barely gone back to green-flag racing on Lap 188 when the back end of Jones' No. 20 Toyota came around as he found himself three-wide in Turn 3 with Ty Dillon ( Richard Childress Racing ) on his outside and JGR teammate Daniel Suarez underneath. "I got sucked around," a disappointed Jones said after exiting the infield care center. "I slammed on the brakes trying to slow down but Ty had been holding me really tight there on the restart, slamming doors in (Turns) 1 and 2. He was on me pretty tight down there. "It was my fault, but it's tough when you're in that situation." The pole winner for the NASCAR XFINITY Series' inaugural opening Chase race, Jones came into the race as the No. 1 seed thanks to four wins during the regular season. The 28th-place finish dropped him from first to ninth in the standings with two races remaining in the opening Chase segment. "It definitely looks like we're going to have to run really well at Dover and Charlotte, if not get a win," jones said. "Getting knocked out there is not a good situation for us. I thought we could probably get a win tonight and get locked in (to the next round), but we'll have to do pretty good here the next two (races) to move on." The race, won by JR Motorsports driver Elliott Sadler , was slowed by a track-record 12 cautions for 64 laps. Aggressive maneuvers saw the field flare out three-and four-wide on numerous restarts. "I was definitely playing more defense on restarts than I ever have been in my career, just trying to guard and make sure I was in one piece," Jones said, "but there's only so much you can do before one of those times you run out of luck." Dillon, who led 47 laps around the 1.5-mile track, finished one positon ahead of Jones in 27th and fell eight spots, from fourth to 12th in points, with the setback. Only eight of the 12 Chase drivers will advance to the second round. "I had a pretty good restart there and had a good run on the 20," Dillon said of the incident with Jones. "I heard him get loose and he had to lift and there was nowhere I can go. "It just sucks to start off the Chase like that we're in a hole but we had speed tonight so we can win races. It just hurts and then you see the 1 (Sadler) win; we were better than him all night." "It's so fast around here but one groove and things like that are going to happen, especially when everybody is trying to get locked into that Chase." Jones and Dillon weren't the only Chase drivers to find themselves involved in on-track incidents -- toss Justin Allgaier (P9), Ryan Sieg (P16), runner- up Daniel Suarez (P2) into the mix as well. Most, if not all, were able to recover, however. "I think we can win anytime we come to the race track," Jones said, "but we beat ourselves a lot this year and we did it again tonight and that's unfortunate."