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Chase Elliott named Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year


After the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Chase Elliott was named the Sunoco Rookie of the Year.

Elliott, in his first season driving the No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports, was given the honor out of a class that included Chris Buescher, Brian Scott, Ryan Blaney and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

The son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott finished the season 10th in the standings. Chase Elliott went winless, but finished his first campaign with two poles (Daytona 500, Talladega I), 10 top fives and 17 top 10s. He qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup but was eliminated after the second round.

In his brief appearance in the media center, Elliott said he wasn’t deserving of the attention while his teammate Jimmie Johnson celebrated his seventh Sprint Cup title.

“I don’t need to be sitting up here right now, seven championships versus Rookie of the Year. You guys need to be watching him,” Elliott told the media. “But I’m proud of our season for sure. I’m definitely proud to earn the Rookie of the Year honors. It’s been a long season, a lot of ups and downs, but we’re happy to be here and definitely enjoyed racing against those guys for the Rookie of the Year this season. Felt like it was a fun group, and we’re excited to get on to season two.”

In 36 races, Elliott led 358 laps spread out over 14 races. His season-high of 107 laps led came in the fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The native of Dawsonville, Georgia, also recorded two DNFs.

After 41 Sprint Cup starts, Elliott says he feels “far from” being a veteran. The 2017 Daytona 500 will be his first race without the yellow rookie stripes on his rear bumper.

“Good news is I don’t have to go to any more rookie meetings, which is nice,” Elliott said. “I think you learn things as you go, but I can’t see the back bumper, so I don’t know what’s there or not. I think you just kind of learn from experiences and things you encounter along the way, not so much whether it’s your first year or first race or whatever it is. I think it’s more of an experience-based kind of feel, whether you have that comfort moving forward.”

Elliott is still seeking his first Cup win. The only rookie to win in 2016 was Buescher, who won at Pocono in a race shortened by fog.

Elliott’s predecessor in the No. 24, Jeff Gordon, was Rookie of the Year in 1993 and didn’t earn his first win until his 42nd start. Elliott’s 42nd start will come in the 2017 Daytona 500.

Martinsville Truck race postponed to Sunday after Cup race

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The Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Truck race at Martinsville has been postponed until Sunday afternoon, following the Cup race.

Ben Rhodes led the field to green 2:05 p.m. and held the lead until Mike Senica stalled on the track. Rhodes led the first 23 laps until precipitation red flagged the event at 2:17.

The Truck race will be televised on FS1.

Martin Truex Jr. sweeps Martinsville Cup practice

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After posting the fastest single lap and quickest 10-lap average in the first practice, Martin Truex. Jr. also topped the fastest lap chart in final practice for the STP 500 with a speed of 95.415 mph.

Also repeating his performance from the first practice, Brad Keselowski was second on the leaderboard. Keselowski was fast on long runs with the quickest 10-lap average of 94.579 mph.

Sophomore Daniel Suarez was notably fast. His lap of 95.588 mph was third on the chart.

Kyle Busch (95.122) and Ryan Newman (94.756) rounded out the top five.

Jimmie Johnson (93.831) was hoping to carry over momentum from last week’s top 1o at Auto Club, but struggled to find single lap speed. He landed 28th on the speed chart.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wheel hopped entering turn three with 33 minutes remaining. He rolled out a backup car and will start at the back regardless of where he qualifies.

Click here for the full final practice times.

History looms for the Wood Brothers

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Glen Wood first came to Martinsville, Virgina in November 1953, making the short 30-minute drive from Stuart for his NASCAR debut in a family owned car. Nearly 65 years later, the famed Woods Brothers are still racing the iconic No. 21 on the half-mile bullring.

The torch has since been passed to Glen’s sons, but the history remains.

“Our dad came here and raced,” Eddie Wood said in a press release before the STP 500. “He raced here in the fifties and it’s just a special, special place and knowing that the Ford Fusions ran really well last year here that gives you a lot of confidence. I’m sure it gives Paul (Menard) a lot of confidence, but it’s just a special, special place.”

Last fall, Ryan Blaney returned the 21 to the top 10 on the team’s home track for the first time in 12 years. He finished eighth in the First Data 400. This year, Blaney turned the car over to Menard and as the series comes to Martinsville for the first of two races this year, the legacy continues.

“The pressure is all what you make of it,” Menard said. “I know a couple things – I’ve got a great team behind me. We’re gonna have a fast Ford and we’re gonna have a lot of fans cheering on the 21 car, so you can think about that every waking second you’re up here, or you can go to work and do your business. It’s obviously an honor to drive this car and to be a part of the Wood family driving the 21 at Martinsville, and I’m really gonna think about that when I put my firesuit on, but once you get the helmet on it’s all business.”

The gravity of protecting the Wood Brothers’ legend at Martinsville is increased by the fact that this week marks NASCAR’s first short track race of the season and a return to its grassroots. It is easy to feel the history of racing on this little track nestled in rural Virginia—not only for the iconic team, but the entire field.

“It’s getting back to grassroots,” Menard said. “Over half the guys, probably more than that, started racing at short tracks with late models somewhere. We were running 25 laps back then versus 500 now, but the stage racing is kind of like a couple of heat races before the A Main, so you try to get your points when you can and be smart about things when you can and let it rip when you can.”

“You can race here year after year, race after race and there’s no way anybody can mess this race up,” Eddie Wood said. “This is just always a great race because it’s tight and it’s grassroots, it’s NASCAR roots.”

The STP 500 is not just another race for the Wood Brothers. On a track that puts a premium on mechanical grip and driver ability, as opposed to flat out horsepower, Menard has greater control over his fate. That is both good and bad news, because a milestone has been within reach for the past 27 races –  the team’s 100th win.

“It would be huge,” Menard said of the 100th win. “I’ll take it anywhere. We started at Daytona and didn’t get it there, and we’ll keep working until we get it. Martinsville would be a huge one for us, obviously, and if we do that, we’ll have another one for the museum down the road.”

Ben Rhodes grabs Martinsville Truck pole

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Ben Rhodes laid down a lap of 95.942 mph in the final round of qualification for the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Truck series at Martinsville to win his third career pole.

Teammate Matt Crafton will line up beside him on the outside of the front row with a lap of 95.704 mph.

Grant Enfinger qualified third to give ThorSports a clean sweep of the top spots.

Round two: Kyle Benjamin was fastest 95.830 mph. With time running off the clock, Myatt Snider (94.984) bumped Harrison Burton (94.770) out of the top 12.

Round one: Todd Gilliland topped the chart with a speed of 95.213 mph. He will have to drop to the back to start the race because of an engine change, so he did not attempt to post a time in the second round.

Click here for the race lineup.

Weather permitting, the green flag will wave over the field at 2 p.m.