Denny Hamlin is interviewed after practice for the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Homestead, Fla. Hamlin won the pole position. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

The Latest: Pit-stall call draws criticism after 1st stage

November 18, 2018 - 3:32 pm

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on NASCAR's Cup Series championship (all times local):

4:25 p.m.

The controversial pit stall selections of Joe Gibbs Racing drew scrutiny after the first stage of Sunday's championship race.

Denny Hamlin missed his pit stall when he headed in for service and had to back up. It cost the pole-sitter valuable time and again spotlighted that Hamlin had not picked the first pit stall and instead allowed teammate Kyle Busch to take the spot.

Busch is racing for the championship and Joe Gibbs Racing felt it needed Busch in the first pit stall to have a clear exit back onto the race track. His stop was problematic, too.

Busch's crew struggled to get all the lug nuts on his Toyota and it cost Busch six spots in the running order.

Busch was ninth and lowest of the four title contenders when the second stage began. Hamlin restarted 17th.

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4:15 p.m.

Kevin Harvick has won the first stage of NASCAR's championship race. He gains nothing for crossing the finish line first after the opening 80 laps, but it shows he's the one to beat at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Larson was second, followed by fellow championship contenders Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.

Harvick took the lead following the first round of pit stops and faced no real challenges for the lead.

The highest finisher among the four title contenders will earn the trophy. The other 36 drivers have mostly stayed out of the way.

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3:20 p.m.

Furniture Row Racing gathered at Martin Truex Jr.'s car for one final group photo moments before the start of NASCAR's season finale.

Furniture Row is closing after the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The No. 78 is trying to win its second consecutive title and its pre-race ceremonies were a mixed emotion of excitement and sadness. Most of the crew members had family and children with them at the car, and most were wearing either the standard black Furniture Row shirts or something to honor Truex.

The group photo was delayed as the team waited for owner Barney Visser to get to the car.

Visser is shutting down the team because it lost its primary sponsor, and Visser said it's too expensive to fund a competitive car without assistance.

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3:15 p.m.

Jimmie Johnson slid into the No. 48 Chevrolet for the final time with crew chief Chad Knaus calling the shots.

Johnson and Knaus are parting ways after 17 years together. Sponsor Lowe's also is leaving NASCAR.

Johnson and Knaus chatted with former Hendrick Motorsports great Jeff Gordon before they rolled off pit road. Johnson strapped on his helmet as Knaus kneeled by the car window and they went over the playbook.

Knaus smacked Johnson on the top of the helmet before he left for the pit stall.

Homestead has marked a time to say goodbye to departing stars such as Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. over the last few years. It seemed like a retirement scene at the 48. Johnson and Knaus were mobbed by fans, media and family wanting one final snapshot of one of the more successful driver-crew chief pairings in NASCAR history.

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1:45 p.m.

Carlos Slim Domit, the son of a billionaire businessman who has long backed driver Daniel Suarez, says he will continue to support NASCAR's first Mexican champion in 2019.

"It's been a very nice season and hopefully we have good news for next year," Domit said Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "We all feel very proud of what he has accomplished."

Suarez, who won the 2016 Xfinity championship, is out at Joe Gibbs Racing after just two seasons in the Cup Series as the team makes room for Martin Truex Jr. Suarez has been linked to Stewart-Haas Racing as a potential landing spot.

Suarez won the pole at Pocono and had just three top-five finishes this season. He's 20th in the standings.

Suarez declined this weekend to discuss his 2019 plans.

Domit said NASCAR has "been supporting diversity for a long time," and Suarez's success was an example of that commitment.

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1:20 p.m.

Actor Josh Dallas showed up for the NASCAR finale and professed his love for IndyCar.

Dallas is serving as the grand marshal at Homestead-Miami Speedway and will give the command for drivers to start their engines.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Dallas grew up watching races. But when asked for details, he laughed and acknowledged he was an IndyCar fan who has been to several Indianapolis 500 events.

"I'm an Andretti guy," he said.

He also is a Martin Truex Jr. guy. Dallas says he's pulling for the defending Cup Series champion to repeat because he "loves Truex's story."

Furniture Row Racing, a one-car team based in Denver, teamed with Truex in 2014 and dominated the series in 2017. The team also is shutting down after the finale because of sponsorship troubles.

Dallas is best known for his roles as Prince Charming in the ABC television series "Once Upon a Time" and Fandral in the Marvel Comics adaptation of "Thor." He currently stars in the NBC drama series "Manifest."

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12 p.m.

Jimmie Johnson is fresh-faced for his farewell race with crew chief Chad Knaus.

Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR champion, surprised the sport when he showed up at Homestead-Miami Speedway clean shaven for the first time in nearly a dozen years. Johnson tweeted a photo of a razor with the caption, "I'm all in for the throwback weekend!" Johnson, a fitness freak, looked about as baby-faced as he did as a rookie in 2002. It's part of a throwback weekend that honors his history with Knaus and sponsor Lowe's. Johnson has been paired with both for 17 years, but he's splitting from his crew chief next season and Lowe's is leaving NASCAR.

The 43-year-old Johnson is facing his first winless season in 17 seasons.

NASCAR poked fun at Johnson's retro look with a tweet that said, "2002 called, it wants its look back."

Johnson's salt-and-pepper beard does remain, however, at least on the official emoji on his Twitter feed.

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11:30 a.m.

NASCAR believes it can weather its current decline and the best days for the sport are ahead.

To get there, NASCAR President Steve Phelps says "everything's in play" as the sanctioning body tries to lead the sport out of its downturn.

Phelps held his first news conference as NASCAR's president on Sunday just hours before the championship-deciding season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He said nothing is off limits in discussions for the 2020 schedule, which may include doubleheaders, midweek races, a tightened schedule, shorter races and even a potential shared event schedule with IndyCar.

Phelps reiterated the France family is optimistic about the future of NASCAR and that Jim France has been heavily involved since replacing nephew Brian as chairman and CEO in August.

Brian France was charged with drunken driving in August and has been on leave from his family business. Phelps replaced Brian France at the annual state-of-the-sport meeting with reporters and offered an optimistic outlook on the future of NASCAR.

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10:50 a.m.

NASCAR's Cup Series champion will be decided Sunday when title contenders Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. take the green flag at the season finale.

The highest finisher among the four at Homestead-Miami Speedway will earn the trophy. The other 36 drivers in the 40-car field are likely to stay mostly out of the way.

Busch is the 2015 champion and has momentum from winning last week at Phoenix. He also has the most coveted pit stall thanks to a controversial decision Saturday.

Harvick is the 2014 champion and eked into the finale after getting stripped of a victory and an automatic berth two weeks ago at Texas because of an illegal part. Logano is seeking his first title after finishing as runner-up in 2016. Truex is the defending Cup Series champion whose Furniture Row Racing team is shutting down after the race.

Truex is moving to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019, one of a number of series changes on the horizon.

The most notable: Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus are parting ways after 17 years together. Sponsor Lowe's also is leaving NASCAR.

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