Bad luck, not bad strategy, dooms Martin Truex Jr.’s chance at Kansas win

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sitting atop the pit box for Furniture Row Racing, crew chief Cole Pearn allowed himself a pleasant thought.

“Man, maybe we’re going to ease into this one,” Pearn contemplated.

The No. 78 driven by Martin Truex Jr. had taken the pole and the No. 1 pit stall that came with it and was running away with the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Truex was in the process of racking up the most laps led in the race for the second straight year. Twelve months after leading 95 laps in the spring race at Kansas, Truex would total 172, a team record for Furniture Row Racing.

Then came Lap 212.

That’s when Truex pitted from the lead for what should have been his final stop of the night.

Should have.

The second Truex left the pit box at the end of pit road, his Toyota began shaking.

“‘You got to be kidding me’ was my reaction,” Truex said following the race, once again leaning against his car in defeat rather than standing on it in celebration.

With 55 laps left, Truex tried thinking of a reason his car was misbehaving at the worst possible time.

“Maybe it’s shaking because it’s got tape on it or something stupid,” Truex thought.

It wasn’t tape or a lack of lug nuts. All four tires were on tight.

“A bolt that holds that right-front brake hat, one of the heads broke off for whatever reason,” Pearn said. “(It) holds the brake rotor on basically. The small head of the bolt broke off and got hung in the wheel when it went on.”

That’s what forced Truex back to pit road on Lap 215. When the No. 78 returned to the action, Truex was a lap down.

“You always know there’s the possibility of those things happening, you just hope they’re earlier in the race so you can overcome them,” said Truex. “We certainly had a car fast enough we could have overcome it if it was earlier.”

Two late cautions would allow Truex to return to the lead lap, but he ran out of time, finishing 14th. When Truex emerged from his car on pit road, he was approached by an apologetic Joe Gibbs. Furniture Row Racing is aligned with Gibbs’ organization.

“The pit crew guys train at his place, so he felt responsible,” Truex said. ” (He) just wanted to let me know what it was.”

For once, it was bad luck.

It’s the second race of the year Truex has led the most laps and failed to win. During the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Truex led 141 laps. Then under a late caution, Pearn called the No. 78 to pit road and had to watch as the rest of the leaders stayed out.

Busch won, Truex finished sixth.

Last year under the Kansas lights, Pearn had Truex pit for fuel during a late caution. In his rear-view mirror, Truex had to watch as the rest of the field stayed on the track.

Jimmie Johnson won, Truex finished ninth.

Truex would lead the most laps – 131 each – in the next two races at Charlotte and Dover, but fail to win. He finally broke through at Pocono Raceway the week after Dover.

The No. 78 hasn’t been back to victory lane since.

“It’s frustrating when you’ve had it happen so many times in your career,” said Truex, who leaves Kansas 10th in points. “I swear, you watch guys win races that don’t have the best car, on fuel mileage and all this stuff and it’s like, damn. Someday I’m going to get on the (right) side of one of them. It’s usually dominate and don’t win.”

But even while on the wrong side of circumstance once again, Truex recognizes he’s in the best place he’s been during his 11 seasons racing full-time in the Sprint Cup Series.

“Without a doubt, that’s why I don’t get down and lose my mind when things like this happen,” Truex said. “We’re going to win races. Whether we win four or one before the Chase, it really doesn’t matter, we won one last year and we made it to the final four.”

And then there’s Pearn, who allowed himself to contemplate the possibility of a well-earned win.

The second-year crew chief has one win with Truex, but sticking the landing a second time is proving difficult. How does he keep his spirits up?

“You’ve got no choice, I think maybe last year, I was mad after this one last year, but now I’ve experienced going through it,” Pearn said. “We’re obviously doing something right, but we’re not doing something else right.”

Brad Keselowski Racing announces crew chief assignments

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Brad Keselowski Racing has announced the crew chiefs that will be paired with both of its full-time rookie drivers this season in the Camping World Truck Series.

Austin Cindric, driving the No. 19 Draw-Tite Ford, will work with Doug Randolph. Randolph has been a crew chief for BKR since 2012 and has six wins, including three with Tyler Reddick in the last two seasons. Randolph also has four Xfinity Series wins.

Mike Hillman Jr. will be the crew chief for Chase Briscoe in the No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford. Hillman is a two-time Truck series champion as crew chief for Todd Bodine (2006, 2010). He has 20 Truck Series wins, the last coming in 2013 with Jeb Burton.

“Austin Cindric has already had success in various forms of racing, and has shown a lot of potential in our Ford F-150 race trucks,” said Keselowski in a press release. “I certainly believe that Chase is ready to take the next step in his career, and we’re excited to have him join the BKR family. He won the ARCA championship in his first full-time season, and he’s proven to have the ability to learn quickly and win races. We’re pleased to give both Austin and Chase the opportunity to compete full-time at a high level in NASCAR.”

Briscoe, 22, enters his rookie season after winning the ARCA Racing Series title behind six race wins.

“It’s an absolutely huge opportunity and such an honor to drive for Brad,” said Briscoe in a press release. “The competition level in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is so high, but I’m going to be in the best equipment out there. It’s really cool to once again be working with the Keselowski family. When I moved to North Carolina three years ago, I was helping Brian and Bob in their shop, so things have come full circle. I’m truly blessed with this opportunity, and I hope to make the most of it. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning races and championships, and that’s what I plan to do.”

Cindric, 18, is the son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric. He has six starts with BKR over the last two seasons. His best result is 15th last November at Phoenix International Raceway.

“This is a massive opportunity from Brad and everyone at BKR who trusts me and believes in my abilities as a driver to move on to the next level for a full season,” said Cindric in a press release. “2017 gets more and more exciting for me with every day that goes by. I’ve only done a handful of one-off races in my brief stock car career, so I’m really looking forward to having the same guys by my side week in and week out. I’ve spent a lot of time at the shop the last few weeks and I know everyone is really excited to get back racing.”

The Truck Series season begins Feb. 24 at Daytona International Speedway.

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Kurt, Kyle Busch come up short in Nations Cup finale at Race of Champions

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 04:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch hugs brother Kurt Busch during the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards show at Wynn Las Vegas on December 4, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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After early exits in the first day of the Race of Champion exhibition Saturday in Miami, Kyle and Kurt Busch returned on Sunday in hopes of winning the Nations Cup for the United States of America, but were swept in the finale by Germany’s Sebastian Vettel.

The brothers, representing Team USA NASCAR, were in Group A with USA IndyCar, USA Rally and ROC Factor Canada.

Kurt Busch’s struggles from Saturday continued in his first race against IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe. The Canadian driver beat Kurt Busch by .002 of a second. The NASCAR representative would bounce back in his next race, beating action sports star and former NASCAR driver Travis Pastrana.

In Kyle Busch‘s first race of the day, he faced and beat karting champion Stefan Rzadzinski of Canada. He followed it up by beating Scott Speed.

After six races, Team USA NASCAR and IndyCar had four wins each and faced each other in the semifinal round. But the Busch brothers prevailed over Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi from USA IndyCar to advance to the Nations Cup final against Vettel, who represented Germany by himself.

But Vettel swept the race, betting Kurt then Kyle Busch to claim the Nations Cup. Vettel swept all of his races, finishing Sunday with seven wins.

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NMPA names Jimmie Johnson Driver of the Year among annual awards

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 18:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 18, 2016 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
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Jimmie Johnson was named the Richard Petty Driver of the Year on Saturday by the National Motorsports Press Association as part of its annual awards banquet.

It’s the seventh time that Johnson – who was named on 62 percent of the ballots cast – has been recognized with the award. He previously won it in 2004, ’06, ’07, ’09, ’10, and ’13.

The award comes after Johnson became the third driver to win a seventh championship in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

The NMPA also named Al Pearce of Autoweek as its annual Pocono Spirit Award winner.

The award, sponsored by Pocono Raceway, “recognizes character and achievement in the face of adversity,
sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports.”

Pearce won for a four-year project that raised $13,000 through the auction of a racing helmet signed by the 20 living World Driving Champions and Phil Hill and Sir Jack Brabham prior their passing. Proceeds from the project went to the Victory Junction Gang Camp, the Kyle Petty Charity Ride, the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation.

Dave Ferroni, the public relations representative for Furniture Row Racing,  was awarded the Ken Patterson Helping Others Award.

Involved in auto racing for more than 30 years, Ferroni was the publicist for the “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team in 1980 before later serving working for Brainerd International Raceway and the National Hot Rod Association. His company, DMF Communications, has also worked with U.S. Army, Miller Brewing Co., Pennzoil, McDonald’s and Valvoline.

The Ken Patterson award is sponsored by Talladega Superspeedway, where Patterson served as the public relations director, and has been given out since 2004. The track will donate $1,000 in Ferroni’s name to the Kenneth Patterson Educational Trust Fund.

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NBCSN to broadcast NASCAR announcement at 6 p.m. ET Monday

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NBCSN will air live a press conference held by NASCAR industry stakeholders to discuss the upcoming 2017 season at 6 p.m. ET Monday.

The announcement will be attended by NASCAR executives, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers, NASCAR team representatives and NASCAR track representatives.

The press conference is being held at the Charlotte Convention Center.