NASCAR notes: Harvick on pole for Saturday’s Cup race

September 23, 2018

Harvick, Hamlin claim top spots for Cup race

Kevin Harvick turned in a lap of 22.153 seconds to claim the pole for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway. Denny Hamlin will start beside Harvick in second.

This marks the second pole Harvick has earned at Richmond in 36 races, and the first since Sept. 2005. He also started from the front in the April 2016 race, after qualifying was canceled due to rain.

Harvick, who leads all drivers with seven victories this season, has three wins in Richmond. The most recent was in April 2013.

“It’s been a decent racetrack for us through the years, but I think it’s probably been one of our tougher racetracks as we’ve gone through the five years at Stewart-Haas Racing,” Harvick said.

Hamlin, who ran a lap of 22.159 seonds, will be looking to make a move on Saturday. He currently sits 16th in the playoff standings. Only the top 12 drivers remain eligible for the title after next week’s race at Charlotte’s road course.

“I wish I wasn’t in this position,” Hamlin said. “Honestly, I wish we could come here and have a mediocre race and continue moving on. But I don’t mind this either.

“I don’t mind having to go out there and know that we need to run top five of every stage, top five in the race, to just get ourselves somewhat near that cut line.”

Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez round out the top five to start Saturday’s race.

Israeli driver gets a seat, and a chance

A few weeks ago, Alon Day was sitting at his house when he got an email about a ride.

Day, who lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, is the first Israeli driver to compete in the top series of NASCAR. He made his Cup Series debut at Sonoma Raceway in June 2017, and drove two Xfinity and Truck series races apiece in 2016.

Day’s primary circuit is the Whelen Euro Series, which began in 2009 and competes across Europe.

But Best Bully Sticks, a Richmond-based dog treat and dog chew company, sponsored a car with BK Racing for Day to run his second Cup race on Saturday at Richmond Raceway. And, with a sudden email, Day had a new opportunity.

“It’s kind of crazy how things suddenly happen,” said Day, who will drive the No. 23 car. “And the whole year we are working really hard to find deals to drive, either it’s Sonoma or one of the short tracks or the road courses.”

In the Euro Series, Day is coming off a win Sunday in the second semifinal of the NASCAR GP Germany in Hockenheim. He’s the defending Euro Serie ELITE 1 champion, and is two points behind points leader Lucas Lasserre heading into the series finals next month in Belgium.

But Day’s goal is to have a full-time ride next year in one of NASCAR’s American series, whether it’s Cup, Xfinity, Truck or ARCA.

Day said that, being from Israel, it’s not always easy to attract companies to sponsor a car. But he said they’re doing their best.

This year, Best Bully Sticks, which was founded in Richmond about 10 years ago, was looking to continue capitalizing on its growth and get larger audiences for its brand. It discovered Day.

Jay Basnight, the company’s chief marketing officer, said that Day’s goals matched theirs.

“He’s an up-and-coming racer, he’s really made a name for himself in other circuits and is trying to get well established in NASCAR,” Basnight said. “And we’re obviously looking for someone that we can grow with as well. So it just seemed like a perfect opportunity for both of our up-and-coming brands to work together.”

To prepare for Saturday, Day said that he’s been spending probably five to six hours a day on an iRacing simulator.

He knows that Saturday will be a challenge for him. But it’s perhaps one step closer to a more permanent spot racing in the U.S.

“Let’s be honest, I’m driving a Cup car in an oval, first oval for me,” Day said. “Second race in a Cup [car]. That’s not going to be easy. I know what I’m capable of doing and I hope that I can do that. But it’s not going to be easy and I will do the best I can.”

Florence felt by drivers, families

Almost all the NASCAR drivers and teams have their garages and headquarters in Charlotte, which makes everyone in NASCAR keenly aware of the effects of Hurricane Florence on North and South Carolina.

“We’re doing what we can,” Brad Keselowski said. “I don’t think there’s any one person that can do everything, but everybody can do a little something. I’ve got to give my wife Paige a lot of credit. She skipped the race last week so she could be there.

“Paige’s family, my family now, lives out on the edge, on the coast area. A lot of her family and friends were affected. We have a number of things we’re working on doing through my foundation, Checkered Flag Foundation, which does a lot for first responders and military. A lot of first responders are actively involved.

“The hurricane hit that area and you think the worst is over, but it’s actually getting worse.”

Keselowski said he, his wife and foundation have a number of programs underway, including sending clothing, food trucks and gasoline to the affected areas.

“And it’s nice to see other get involved,” Keselowski said. “Ryan Newman’s foundation, [his wife] Krissie was out there doing some things. Darlington Speedway and Talladega Speedway have helped out. We’ve raised about $40,000 so far, and Paige and I are making some donations as well as matching some donations from our fans.

“We’re proud of that. We’re hopeful we’ll make an impact and help some people out who are in a really bad spot. I’ve got to give my wife most of the credit. She’s the one trying to make it happen while I’ve been trying to win races. She’s a real superstar.”

When the grass isn’t greener

Grass is not always a friendly landing spot during a NASCAR race. Depending on how deeply a car buries its nose into the ground, some very bad things can happen. With that in mind, the Charlotte track has replaced grass with an artificial grass surface.

Will that be better than the real stuff?

“I’m not sure,” said Kyle Busch. “Let’s not us be the ones who try it out. I think that the solution is to pave it entirely, and if you want the aesthetics of green, paint it green. Otherwise, we’ll see what this Astroturf has to do and whether it changes the game.”

Change comes to NASCAR’s management

NASCAR is changing its leadership. Steve Phelps has been promoted from chief operation officer to president, effective Oct. 1. Current president Brent Dewar will move into a role of senior consultant advisor.

Busch is not just a driver, he also owns Kyle Busch Motorsports and has a team in the Camping World Trucks Series.

“Obviously you’re hoping that things, A, continue to flatten out or B, turn in the right direction,” Busch said. “You don’t want to have something that continues a negative downturn.

“I think change isn’t always necessary. In this case, someone thought it was. We’ll see what happens.”

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