Long: Stage racing at Martinsville delivered what was promised

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Sunday was what NASCAR drivers, series officials, team executives and former racers forecasted when they introduced stage racing in January.

“The stages are going to bring a lot of excitement for the drivers and the fans.’’ — Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“The single-file, high-line ride out, those days are gone.’’ — Brad Keselowski

“When a race fan buys a ticket to go to a race, that race fan deserves to see a race that matters. That race fan deserves to see a race that’s going to impact the championship.’’ — NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton

The point was that with points earned based on finishes in the first two stages, drivers would take more chances and create action that might not have been seen in the past at such junctures.

What happened at the end of Stage 2 Sunday at Martinsville Speedway could define the playoffs … or at least define what drivers will accept in the closing laps.

Kyle Busch was dominant in the second stage and seemed headed toward a stage victory.

He admits that would have been critical to have won and earned a playoff point since his team has yet to win a race this season. He also made note of Joe Gibbs Racing’s lack of wins in the playoffs. JGR has three victories in the last 30 playoff races (10 percent), while having won 25 of the 78 regular-season races (32.1 percent) during that same time.

As the end of Stage 2 neared Sunday, Busch came upon a group of cars trying to stay on the lead lap. There were Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Clint Bowyer among others. They weren’t going to make it easy on Busch, who had a comfortable lead on Chase Elliott as he approached the cars.

Busch worked his way through some of the cars and ran alongside Dillon on the backstretch on the final lap of the stage. If Busch lapped Dillon, Stenhouse would lose the free pass position because he had been passed moments earlier.

Stenhouse responded by running up to the back of Busch’s car entering Turn 3 and pushing the leader up the track. Stenhouse got by to remain on the lead lap (he went on to finish the race 10th), and Elliott nipped Busch to win the stage and collect that one playoff point.

“It was as hard as I could drive,’’ Stenhouse said. “I got sponsors, fans and a team to take care of. I had to stay on the lead lap.’’

He had extra incentive because he knew a caution was coming. Stenhouse had to make his move then.

His action left Busch lamenting that lost point and thinking of the future.

“When you got the leader to the outside and you keep banging him off the corner, that’s pretty disrespectful but do whatever you want, it’s going to come back and bite you one of these days,’’ Busch said. “We’ve just got to always remember that race car drivers are like elephants, they remember everything.’’

Busch knows how valuable bonus points can be for the playoffs.

When he won the 2015 championship, Busch made it out of the first round based on bonus points for wins. If he hadn’t had those, he would not have advanced and there would have been a different champion that season. Last year, Busch’s teammate, Denny Hamlin, advanced to the third round instead of Austin Dillon based on a tiebreaker.

“That’s what this format is supposed to be about is having moments like that,’’ winner Brad Keselowski said. “Whether you agree with specific moves is really neither here nor there. But when you put things on the line, when you put more on the line throughout the race, you get more moments like that, and I think in the end, the fans win and the sport wins.’’

Everyone won Sunday but Kyle Busch.

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Watkins Glen, Michigan announce multi-year sponsor deals

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Watkins Glen International and Michigan International Speedway announced multi-year sponsorship deals for their Cup Series races Thursday.

WGI announced the Aug. 5 race at the road course will be sponsored by GoBowling.com. The 90-lap race will be called “Go Bowling at the Glen.”

This is not the first time the bowling brand has sponsored a Cup event. It sponsored the spring race at Kansas Speedway from 2016-17 and the August event at Pocono Raceway from 2013-14.

As part of the deal, Go Bowling will have two bowling lanes at the track for the race weekend.

Michigan has renewed its sponsorship deal with FireKeepers Casino Hotel for its June Cup race for “many years.”

The hotel in Battle Creek, Michigan, began its relationship with MIS by sponsoring pole day in 2014. It began sponsoring the June race in 2016.

TheFireKeepers Casino 400 is scheduled for June 10.

ISM Raceway (Phoenix) also announced the title sponsor for its March 11 Cup race.

The event will called the TicketGuardian 500.

TicketGuardian is a mobile ticketing insurance provider. When fans purchase tickets to events at ISM Raceway, they will be given the option to add TicketGuardian’s ticket protection coverage. This allows fans to have insurance on the tickets they’ve purchased in advance.

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Hendrick, Kelley Blue Book extend relationship through 2020

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Hendrick Motorsports and Kelley Blue Book have extended their sponsorship deal three years through 2020, the team announced Thursday.

The car pricing, research and valuation guide will be a primary sponsor on Chase Elliott‘s N0. 9 Chevrolet in two races each year.

This season it will be on the No. 9 for the Aug. 18 race at Bristol Motor Speedway and the November playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Kelley Blue Book has been partnered with Hendrick since 2014 when it had a one-race deal to sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It went to a two-race deal beginning in 2016.

MORE: Driving the No. 9 feels like going home for Chase Elliott

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Danica Patrick has Daytona 500, Indy 500 sponsor; now needs ride

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GoDaddy will return to be Danica Patrick‘s sponsor for the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, the company announced Thursday.

Patrick said in November that she would retire from racing after competing in those two events. She has yet to secure a ride for either race but that was slowed by the lack of sponsorship until Thursday’s announcement.

A Chip Ganassi Racing executive said last week that the team was no longer in discussions with Patrick for her to drive for the team in either race. Steve Lauletta, president of Chip Ganassi Racing, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the team would stay focused on its current operations instead of adding another car for those races: “We’re going to stay focused on that rather than put another temporary effort together and not doing it up to the standards that we would want to, so I don’t think you’ll see that happening with us in 2018.”

Ed Carpenter, who owns Ed Carpenter Racing, confirmed to the Indianapolis Star last week he’s had discussions with Patrick but that “it has to be a deal that is beneficial to both parties.”

MORE: Danica Patrick confirms she is dating NFL quarterback

GoDaddy signed Patrick in 2006 when she was in IndyCar and followed her to NASCAR, ending its sponsorship after the 2015 season. While together, Patrick was the face of the company, appearing in 13 GoDaddy Super Bowl ads – the most Super Bowl commercial appearances by a celebrity.

“You could say, ‘we’re getting the band back together,” said GoDaddy Chief Marketing Officer Barb Rechterman. “It makes sense in that our goals are so well-aligned – she’s passionate, tenacious and creative just like so many of our customers who are also looking to leverage the power of the Internet and turn their ‘side hustle’ into a full-time business. Danica absolutely epitomizes the heart of our GoDaddy customers. We love it.”

Said Patrick in a statement: “This is definitely the way I want to finish my racing career – at these two iconic races, backed by my iconic, long-time sponsor. GoDaddy was there for me when my career was just really starting so it’s exciting to be getting back in the GoDaddy ‘green’ for my final two races. Our brands have always been powerful together, and I think it’s awesome to have them at my side when I go ‘all in’ with my businesses after racing.”

Patrick has made six starts in the Daytona 500. She won the pole for the 2013 race. She finished eighth that year, her best finish in the season-opening Cup race. She finished fourth in last year’s Advance Auto Parts Clash. She is eligible for that race this year. Patrick has made seven starts in the Indianapolis 500 from 2005-11. She finished a career-best fourth in her first race there, leading 19 laps. She has two top-five and five top-10 finishes in the Indy 500.

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Atlanta Motor Speedway accepting lucky charms to help Chase Elliott earn first Cup win

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The president of Atlanta Motor Speedway is hoping history will repeat.

Ed Clark is doing whatever he can to get Georgia-native Chase Elliott to Victory Lane for the first time in the Cup Series.

To do that, he’s using the same marketing scheme he executed in 1983 in the weeks before Bill Elliott’s first Cup victory.

AMS is asking for fans to send lucky charms to the track, which will be presented to Chase Elliott during a special event there Feb. 13.

There’s no restrictions on what can be sent.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver is winless after 77 starts in NASCAR’s premier series.

Bill Elliott in 1983. (Atlanta Motor Speedway).

His father went winless in his first 155 starts from 1976-83.

Clark put together the original lucky charm drive ahead of the October race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he served as public relations director.

“The promotion we came up with for Bill in ’83 created an amazing amount of interest and support from fans all over the country,” said Clark in a press release. “We received package after package full of good-luck charms, and it seemed like everybody was pulling for him to get that first win.”

Three races later, in the season finale at Riverside International Raceway, the 28-year-old Bill Elliott claimed his first of 44 Cup victories.

Fans can send their lucky charms to Elliott by shipping them to AMS at 1500 Highway 19/41, Hampton, GA 30228, with attention to “Good Luck, Chase.” Fans can also participate by using the hashtag #GoodLuckChase across the various social media platforms with pictures and messages to Elliott.

The Cup season begins Feb. 18 with the 60th Daytona 500. The following weekend, the series visits Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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