Cup race moved up an­hourSun­day

NASCAR hopes to get 500-mile race in be­fore rain

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - SPORTS2 -

CON­CORD, N.C. — Rain has wreaked havoc with the open­ing race for the sec­ond round of the Monster En­ergy Cup play­offs.

All prac­tice was can­celed Satur­day at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way, and the start of Sun­day’s race was moved up an hour to give NASCAR a big­ger win­dow to com­plete the 500- mile event.

It’s not the Cham­ber of Commerce week­end that Char­lotte of­fi­cials had hoped for when they re­ar­ranged the sched­ule. This race has tra­di­tion­ally been held on Satur­day nights but was washed out last year by Hur­ri­cane Matthew.

Held the next day, on a gor­geous Carolina af­ter­noon, the race was one of the more com­pet­i­tive ones of the sea­son. Driv­ers felt that run­ning in the af­ter­noon im­proved the on- track prod­uct, and Char­lotte of­fi­cials ad­justed by mov­ing the event to Sun­day.

Now, Hur­ri­cane Nate is ex­pected to spoil the day.

The track had a dif­fer­ent strug­gle Fri­day af­ter it dis­cov­ered it had not prop­erly ap­plied trac­tion com­pound to the track. It re­quired a sec­ond ap­pli­ca­tion in the turns, but not be­fore it caused Dale Earn­hardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Brad Ke­selowski and David Ra­gan to wig­gle ex­it­ing Turn 4 and hit the wall dur­ing prac­tice. Both Earn­hardt and Busch had to move to backup cars.

Char­lotte of­fi­cials fig­ured out that it had not ap­plied enough of the

PJ1 sticky sub­stance in that turn, and driv­ers had asked about it af­ter the dicey prac­tice ses­sion.

“The stuff that they sprayed down, it has had a bad re­ac­tion to the sun or some­thing that has made it re­ally slick,” Earn­hardt said af­ter Fri­day’s ac­ci­dent. “Some­thing has made it to where it doesn’t have grip; it’s the op­po­site.”

Now the rain will wash some of the sub­stance away, and with all prac­tice can­celed Satur­day, driv­ers won’t know what to ex­pect when the race does be­gin. Earn­hardt crashed in the open­ing mo­ments of Fri­day’s prac­tice and said he’d avoid the top line of the track where the com­pound is un­til an­other driver demon­strates there’s no dan­ger.

What to watch Sun­day: Gibbs out front: It was lit­tle sur­prise to see a pair of Toy­otas sweep the front row in qual­i­fy­ing. The cars, though, weren’t the usual sus­pects.

For­mer Ch­ester­field res­i­dent Denny Ham­lin and Matt Kenseth gave Joe Gibbs Rac­ing the top two start­ing spots for the race. The stronger Toy­otas in qual­i­fy­ing this year had be­longed to Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.

For Ham­lin, the top start­ing spot is im­por­tant to get­ting off to a good start in this round of the play­offs. He’s lag­ging be­hind Truex, win­ner of the play­off opener at Chicago, and team­mate Busch, win­ner the past two weeks.

“We’re in that kind of a mid­dle spot in the grid right now where we have some de­cent play­off points, but we’re still 40 or so be­hind Truex and maybe 30 or so be­hind Kyle, and we can knock a big chunk out of that if we run up front in the first two stages,” Ham­lin said. “So we’ve got the start­ing spot to do it. We need to log all the points we can while we have the track po­si­tion, and I’m glad we’re start­ing off this round this way, and hope­fully our car is good enough to stay there to get those points early on.”

Life is good: Truex has been dif­fi­cult to catch this sea­son and leads the series with five wins, 19 stage vic­to­ries and 59 play­off points. So he’s had very lit­tle to com­plain about from his spot out front.

“It feels re­ally good hon­estly,” he said. “It’s been a great sea­son, and you know it’s been re­ally cool to be kind of the guy to beat or to have the most stage wins, the most points, the most wins, all that stuff.”

But Truex knows how quickly it can change. He dom­i­nated the first round of the play­offs last sea­son only to fal­ter in the sec­ond round. He was elim­i­nated at Tal­ladega af­ter win­ning two of the first three races of the play­offs.

“We’re try­ing to just re­ally stay fo­cused and not re­ally rem­i­nisce too much,” he said. “I feel like our team is do­ing a great job of do­ing that. Stay­ing fo­cused, and we know where we want to go. Just try to — got to get there. It’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult; there’s no doubt about it. But it does feel re­ally good. It’s been a lot of fun this year.”


Denny Ham­lin starts on the pole for Sun­day’s race at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way. Ham­lin is sev­enth in points. The top eight ad­vance af­ter this round of three races.

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