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Rain forces Charlotte Motor Speedway shake-ups for NASCAR race

| Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, 6:36 p.m.
The #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, is seen with a rain cover during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 7, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
The #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, is seen with a rain cover during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 7, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
A crew member stands by tires protected from the rain before a scheduled practice for Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. Rain has delayed activities at the track. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
A crew member stands by tires protected from the rain before a scheduled practice for Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. Rain has delayed activities at the track. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

CONCORD, N.C. — Rain has wreaked havoc with NASCAR's opening race for the second round of the playoffs.

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

It's not the Chamber of Commerce weekend Charlotte officials hoped for when they rearranged the schedule. This event traditionally has been held 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 events 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. 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 practice and said he'd avoid the top line of the track where the compound is until another driver demonstrates there's no danger.

It was little surprise to see a pair of Toyotas sweep the front row in qualifying. The cars, though, weren't the usual suspects.

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 up-front 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 last two weeks.

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 last year after winning two of the first three races of the playoffs.

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