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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NASCAR America: Elliott Sadler having fun mentoring William Byron

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If there’s anyone in the Xfinity Series William Byron should turn to for advice during his rookie season in the series, it’s Elliott Sadler.

A veteran of more than 800 NASCAR races across all three of its national series, Sadler has taken the lead in advising the 19-year-old driver this season. During his appearance on NASCAR America, Sadler praised the driver and the time he’s spent with him.

“That kid is special,” Sadler said. “I want to be that guy (that helps), because I had that guy. I had Jeff Green when I started, I had Dale Jarrett, people I could lean on all the time that could help the learning curve.”

Sadler leads the points standings with four races left in the regular season, but he is winless so far. Byron has earned three wins and is second in points behind Sadler.

“He’s a student of the game,” Sadler said. “I’ve been in meetings with young kids that come along, we’ve been in the meeting and kids are still playing on their phones. I’m in a meeting with William … and he’s still learning and taking notes. He’s got great questions. We’re usually sitting beside each other on the airplanes and we’re talking about things for that particular weekend. I can’t help him drive the car faster. But I can help him maybe with restarts and getting on pit road. Maybe things to think about on Friday to maybe make your car better for Saturday.”

Watch the video for more from Sadler on Byron and his friendship with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR America: Elliott Sadler paying tribute to Cale Yarborough with Darlington paint scheme

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Xfinity Series points leader Elliott Sadler will honor childhood racing hero Cale Yarborough with his paint scheme for the Sept. 2 race at Darlington Raceway.

Cale Yarborough poses with his Hardee’s car during the NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Exhibit Unveiling at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 22, 2012. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The JR Motorsports driver revealed the paint scheme Tuesday on NASCAR America. His No. 1 Chevrolet will have the same color blocking, but not colors, of Yarborough’s famous No. 28 Hardee’s car.

Sadler is not the only driver that will have some form of the Hardee’s paint scheme at Darlington. Dakoda Armstrong, driver of JGL Racing’s No. 28, will have the exact colors of the Hardee’s car and a logo on the hood commemorating Yarborough.

A five-time winner at Darlington and a three-time Cup champion, Yarborough is a native of Timmonsville, South Carolina, which is roughly 20 miles from Darlington.

Watch the video for the full reveal of the car.

Former Truck Series driver Shane Sieg dies at 34

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Shane Sieg, a former Camping World Truck Series driver and older brother of Xfinity driver Ryan Sieg, died over the weekend at the age of 34.

Ryan Sieg Racing announced his passing Tuesday on social media. He would have turned 35 on Wednesday. A team spokesperson could not provide additional details.

“Please keep our family in your thoughts and prayers,” the team said on Twitter. “We lost a great driver and an incredible person. Forever in our hearts.”

A native of Tucker, Georgia, Shane Sieg was a veteran of 68 Truck Series races and two Xfinity starts.

He earned three tops 10 in the Truck Series. His best result was eighth at the Milwaukee Mile in 2004. Sieg also won one race in the NASCAR Southeast Series in 2003 at Huntsville Speedway in Alabama.

Sieg made his last Truck start in June 2011 at Pocono Raceway.

Sieg was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR in August 2011 for violating its substance abuse policy and for actions detrimental to the sport.

Ryan Reed honors Alan Kulwicki, Sam Bass with Darlington paint scheme

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Roush Fenway Racing and artist Sam Bass have worked together to create Ryan Reed‘s throwback paint scheme for the Sept. 2 Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway on NBCSN.

Reed’s No. 16 Lilly Diabetes Ford will resemble the No. 7 Zerex Ford driven by Alan Kulwicki in 1989.

Kulwicki was sponsored by Zerex from 1987-90, earning two of his five Cup wins in that time.

“My dad was huge fan of Alan and had a lot of respect for him, so it’s awesome to get to run this throwback scheme in Darlington,” Reed said in a press release. “My Dad ran his own race team and drove for himself throughout the 90s, just like Alan. Alan overcame a lot of challenges to become a champion and I can’t help but have a lot of respect for him.”

Bass, who lives with type 1 diabetes like Reed, worked with Kulwicki during his career and helped design Reed’s car. In a Facebook Live video, Bass said he took extra care to make the one in Reed’s No. 16 resemble Kulwicki’s No. 7.

Bass’ name will also be on the passenger-side nameplate on the roof of Reed’s car.

Reed’s car won’t be the only one at Darlington that will pay tribute to the 1992 Cup champion.

Michael McDowell‘s No. 95 Chevrolet in the Cup Series will resemble the car Kulwicki drove in his 1986 rookie year.