Roval racing: NASCAR notes


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Ryan Blaney (12) drives past the wrecked cars of Jimmie Johnson (48) and Martin Truex Jr. (78) to win the NASCAR Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Ryan Blaney (12) drives past the wrecked cars of Jimmie Johnson (48) and Martin Truex Jr. (78) to win the NASCAR Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)


Ryan Blaney celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)


Martin Truex Jr., (78) and Jimmie Johnson (48) crash on the final lap during the NASCAR Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)


Blaney wins on roval after Johnson crashes out of playoffs

By JENNA FRYER

AP Auto Racing Writer

Monday, October 1

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson saw an opportunity to snap a 58-race losing streak, and went for it. It cost him a shot at an eighth NASCAR championship and allowed Ryan Blaney to steal a surprise victory in the debut race of the “roval” at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Had Johnson just settled for second, he’d still be in the playoffs. Instead, he wrecked with Martin Truex Jr. and wound up in a three-way tie for the final transfer position into the second round of the playoffs. The seven-time NASCAR champion was eliminated Sunday on a tiebreaker.

“I knew where I was on the math,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think that I was going to crash or spin trying to overtake him like I did. I thought I was making a calculated move and giving myself the chance to win and unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way.”

The roval was a unique combination speedway and infield road course created to improve the racing at Charlotte. The unusual layout and unfamiliarity made it a treacherous circuit for the 16-driver playoff field because it was an elimination race for four of the contenders.

The race was unexpectedly clean until the end, which was marked by two different wrecks among the leaders and a red-flag period of almost 15 minutes. The chaotic close made for a suspenseful post-race period in which NASCAR had to review the results and break the tie between Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola and Johnson.

Larson and Almirola advanced, both by picking up desperation points on the final lap. Eliminated along with Johnson was Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, as well as Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones.

Blaney had hovered around the cutoff line most of the race and stunningly wound up the winner with an automatic berth for the Team Penske driver into the next round of the playoffs.

“I didn’t expect that. Sometimes it is better to have a little bit of luck on your side,” Blaney said. “You hate to see two guys take each other out, especially two of the best cars all day.”

The two best cars actually belonged to Larson and Blaney’s teammate Brad Keselowski.

Keselowski was on track to win for the fourth time in five races until he misjudged the entry into the first turn on a restart with six laps remaining. It triggered a multi-car accident that collected Larson, who had led 47 laps. Keselowski’s race ended after leading 29 laps.

Kyle Busch was also in the accident and mocked his fellow drivers for their error.

“All of us are just stupid and don’t know where to brake,” said Busch. “We all just drove off into a 90-degree wall because I guess we didn’t have anything better to do.”

Larson, meanwhile, had to limp a wounded race car around the track for the final laps to cling to his spot in the playoffs. Larson’s fate was also determined in the final few turns when he passed the stalled car of Jeffery Earnhardt.

“I couldn’t even drive my car it was so destroyed,” said Larson, who was married last Wednesday to get the ceremony done during the season. “He was like 100 feet from the start/finish line and I could see him (Earnhardt) creeping and I was like, ‘Don’t go, don’t go!’”

Johnson should have been content following Truex across the finish line and moving on in the playoffs. But he was once unbeatable at Charlotte, where he won eight points races on the oval, and saw the opening Sunday to grab his first win in well over a year.

Johnson tried to dive inside and pass Truex with two turns remaining and he ended up in a spin. Johnson collected Truex, who spun off course, Johnson’s car came to a stop and Blaney scooted past for the surprise victory.

Johnson wound up eighth and out of the playoffs. He stood silently next to his car for several minutes as NASCAR reviewed the final sequence and updated the standings.

“I was more worried about the win than anything else,” Johnson said. “We were in a transfer position and didn’t get it. Just going for the win. The wins are so important and the veteran could have taken the safe route and didn’t.”

Truex, technically the defending race winner because he won on Charlotte’s speedway last fall, faded to 14th and deliberately spun Johnson after the race.

“Last corner desperation behind us. He just overdrove it and was never going to make it and used me as brakes and turned us both around,” Truex fumed. “It sucks. We could have raced side-by-side off the last corner for a win and that would have been cool. The fans would have been digging it, but instead we finished 14th and he’s locked out of the playoffs. I guess that’s what he gets.”

What else happened at the roval:

DILLON’S BAD DAY: Austin Dillon probably would have advanced into the second round of the playoffs if he’d shown some patience.

He was on the right side of the standings at the start of the race but two separate incidents ended his race and his championship chances. Dillon’s day came to a close when he ran over a curb to cause enough damage to his tire that it eventually failed and sent him crashing into the wall.

“I should have just been more patient and waited for more attrition,” Dillon lamented. “But I actually felt pretty comfortable and running good. It’s just hard to hold back in a treacherous race and I guess I didn’t do what we needed to do.”

ROVAL SUCCESS: Speedway Motorsports Inc. first envisioned the roval concept three years ago celebrated it as a success after the race.

“For me, it really lived up to the hype,” SMI President Marcus Smith said.

Fans were energized by the idea of the roval and the anticipation built as drivers struggled to learn the track during two days of practice. NASCAR also had to change the angle of a troublesome tire barrier in turn 12 because so many drivers were hitting it during practice. Once it was moved, the area was no longer a zone for crashing.

UP NEXT: The opening race of the second round of the playoffs Sunday at Dover International Raceway. Kyle Busch is the defending race winner and Kevin Harvick won there in May.

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More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

NASCAR’s current youth movement pushing out veteran drivers

By JENNA FRYER

AP Auto Racing Writer

Friday, September 28

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Jamie McMurray set a record at Charlotte Motor Speedway by winning his second career Cup Series start. Back for the 16th anniversary of that surprise trip to victory lane, McMurray is just another veteran at a career crossroads in NASCAR.

McMurray doesn’t yet have a job for 2019. Neither does AJ Allmendinger or one-time Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. Ryan Newman was released from Richard Childress Racing , Kurt Busch won’t be back at Stewart-Haas Racing and reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. is a free agent because his Furniture Row Racing team is shutting down after the season.

Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler are retiring at the end of the season. Casey Mears never got a retirement tour, his job prospects simply dried up and he moved his family to Arizona over the summer.

That’s how it goes these days in NASCAR. The former “Young Guns” who came in as a youthful wave of new energy early this century are now a bunch of aging graybeards fighting to hang on to their rides.

The youth movement continued Friday when JTG Daughtery Racing opened the weekend at Charlotte by introducing 27-year-old Ryan Preece as Allmendinger’s replacement. A few hours later, Richard Childress named Daniel Hemric , another 27-year-old, to Newman’s seat.

Both drivers have navigated a challenging ladder system in which competitive opportunities can be few and far between. Some of those “Young Guns” put together careers that have lasted 15 years or more with their earnings well into eight digits. The latest crop has had to wait for seats to open, had to secure their own sponsorship and sometimes drive for free.

That Hemric and Preece were promoted on the same day was not lost on either.

“Everybody says the path or whatnot of how we got here may not have been ideal, but at the end of the day you did whatever you could with what you had,” Hemric said. “And when you hear about things that can’t be done, I think today is a huge step in that direction to show that it can be.”

Hemric said he was hopeful the moves would inspire young racers in this uncertain market to keep going and trust their decisions.

“If you do that, no matter how it shakes out, you’ll lay down at night knowing you gave everything you had. I think that’s what today is all about,” he said.

NASCAR is full of blue-collar kids who have scrapped to get to this level. Preece had a full-time job in the Xfinity Series in 2016 but was never going to win in the cars he was given. So he gave up the seat and took a chance that if he could get just a handful of races in one of Joe Gibbs’ cars, he was certain he could win.

Preece got a four-race deal for 2017 and won in his second start. It led to a few more races with Gibbs this year, another victory, and now a spot in the Cup Series next season. The path was Preece’s shot-in-the-dark at making it big.

“I just knew that I had tried everything to get the opportunity that I needed, and it just wasn’t happening,” Preece said. “And it wasn’t because of not being able to win. I’ve won a minimum of 17 races for the past four years. There have been plenty of wins. It’s just I haven’t gotten that opportunity.”

As NASCAR’s economics have changed with sponsors more scarce than ever, team owners have been forced to dramatically cut costs and cheaper drivers have become the norm. Hendrick Motorsports replaced Jeff Gordon with Chase Elliott, Dale Earnhardt Jr. with Alex Bowman and Kahne with William Byron. At 25, Bowman is the oldest of the trio.

Drivers like McMurray, Mears and Kahne have been the ones left standing without a ride. McMurray has been offered a job by Chip Ganassi to drive the Daytona 500 next season and then move into a leadership role with the team. The offer is presumably to make room for Busch, who has sponsorship in hand but wasn’t retained by SHR.

Busch’s seat at SHR is up for grabs but will likely go to Xfinity Series driver Cole Custer, who is already in the SHR pipeline, or perhaps Daniel Suarez, who has been pushed into the job market because of Truex. Toyota can’t let the champion leave its stable, so Truex is likely going to take Suarez’s seat at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Newman took the No. 6 Ford at Roush Fenway Racing, and that displaces both Bayne and Matt Kenseth, who was called in from the sidelines earlier this year to split seat time at Roush and help the team improve its cars. Kenseth was only available because Gibbs let him go to make room for 22-year-old Erik Jones. Kahne tried to hang on this year after he was dropped by Hendrick, but driving for a second-rate team was less than fun and he’s decided to make this year his last.

Sadler’s sponsorship isn’t as strong as it once was and faced with driving for a smaller team that won’t contend for victories, he said he will retire from the Xfinity Series at the end of the season. JR Motorsports this week hired 20-year-old Noah Gragson to replace him.

“If you are going to fall down that hole of ‘money, money, money,’ you will never make it,” Preece said. “There were a lot of nights I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know what my future was going to be. I didn’t know if I could even make it to this level. I was going to try though. I was going to try like hell … you just need the right person to notice.”

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More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Ryan Blaney (12) drives past the wrecked cars of Jimmie Johnson (48) and Martin Truex Jr. (78) to win the NASCAR Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/10/web1_121470819-801081d33df34bd4b1e0123a5e7846ac.jpgRyan Blaney (12) drives past the wrecked cars of Jimmie Johnson (48) and Martin Truex Jr. (78) to win the NASCAR Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Ryan Blaney celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/10/web1_121470819-482cdf6c977345088637d95bb4086f88.jpgRyan Blaney celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

Martin Truex Jr., (78) and Jimmie Johnson (48) crash on the final lap during the NASCAR Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/10/web1_121470819-81e8b04f6fba4b9d8d23c163d114cf60.jpgMartin Truex Jr., (78) and Jimmie Johnson (48) crash on the final lap during the NASCAR Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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