ON THE TRACKS Saturday in auto racing
Truex wins at Sparta, Blaney finishes second
Martin Truex Jr. won the NASCAR Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway, passing Brad Keselowski and then Kurt Busch on the way to repeating as champion on Saturday night.
Truex’s No. 78 Toyota Camry appeared even more dominant than it was last July as he led 174 of 267 laps and swept the first two stages after starting on the pole. The defending Cup champion was always in contention in the 400-mile race, even while trailing. He became Kentucky’s first repeat winner, earning his fourth victory this season and the 19th of his career.
Ryan Blaney — son of Hartford native and former NASCAR driver Dave Blaney — was second and Keselowski was third, both in Fords, followed by Kyle Busch (Toyota) and Kevin Harvick (Ford).
All-analyst lineup for NBC next week
NBC Sports is set to dump its play-by-play NASCAR announcer for an all-analyst lineup headlined by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The network will use three analysts in the broadcast booth for next week’s NASCAR Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Earnhardt, the 15-time most popular NASCAR driver, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte will be the only broadcasters for the July 22 race at the Magic Mile.
Rick Allen, the lead announcer for NASCAR on NBC since 2015, will call the second-tier Xfinity Series race and will contribute to NBC’s Cup Series practice and race coverage.
Earnhardt’s name value and blossoming effort behind the mic has made Allen expendable. He’s been an early star on NBC thanks partly to his “slide job!” exclamations.
With four announcers crowding the booth this season, NBC said it would experiment. Last week, the network had Letarte chiming in from a spot stationed on pit road.
Knaus signs extension as Johnson crew chief
Chad Knaus has signed a two-year contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports through 2020 to remain as crew chief for the No. 48 Chevrolet of seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
Knaus, who has worked with Johnson since 2002, said during a news conference Saturday at Kentucky Speedway that he signed the deal in the past couple of weeks. His current contract was set to expire after this season. He described his decision to stay as “pretty easy,” even as the team seeks sponsors to replace home improvement chain Lowe’s.
“I think Jimmie and I have gotten to the point where we really understand one another,” Knaus said.
Johnson entered Saturday night’s 400-mile race at Kentucky 12th in points and aiming to end a 41-race drought. His most recent win was in last year’s June race at Dover.
Newgarden leads qualifying at Toronto
Josef Newgarden took advantage of a rapidly drying track Saturday afternoon to take the pole position for the IndyCar race at Toronto.
Newgarden passed Scott Dixon by just 0.1964 seconds after gambling on a slow start in the final qualifying run. A light drizzle made it seem like he’d miscalculated with Dixon getting a sizable lead, but the rain let up and the 27-year-old Newgarden found his tires gripping better. As the last car left on the Exhibition Place course, Newgarden pushed his car to the limit to knock Dixon off on his final lap.
Newgarden finished the final qualifying segment in 59.4956 seconds, followed by Dixon (59.6920) and Simon Pagenaud (59.7630) to take the first three grid spots for the race.
Dixon set a course record earlier in qualifying, clocking a time of 58.5546 in segment two.