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After early accident, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrates 10th-place finish at Martinsville

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. emerged from his battered No. 17 car, stood on the door and with a giant smile, raised both arms above his head in victory.

One problem.

Stenhouse didn’t win the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. That was Brad Keselowski, who was preparing to be interviewed in victory lane on the frontstretch.

Stenhouse finished 10th.

But as he jumped down from his car into the typical post-race madness, that didn’t matter to Stenhouse. He wanted to celebrate his best finish at Martinsville like it was the Cup win he still seeks.

“Going into today, we had hopes of a better Martinsville than normal, our normal is really bad here,” Stenhouse said. “This is our worst track by far on the circuit, has been since I got to Cup. This is huge momentum. This is almost like a win for us.”

In eight previous starts, Stenhouse’s best result was 15th in the fall 2014 race. Since then, he never finished better than 32nd.

And 70 laps into Sunday’s race, Stenhouse feared his “day was going to go about the normal way it does.”

After starting 24th, the Roush Fenway Racing driver was running in front of Paul Menard in the middle groove as they entered Turn 3. Menard then accidently made contact with Stenhouse, which turned him around and damaged his left-rear quarter panel.

(Menard and Stenhouse shook hands and hugged it out after the race.)

“We fought hard all day, got the car a little bit better,” said Stenhouse, who averaged a running spot of 19.6 during the 500-lap race. “Really good on long runs. I needed long runs. Those cautions there in the middle part of the race really stacked me up, and I lost a lot of spots. But once we got going, I was pretty good.”

After his accident, the biggest fight of Stenhouse’s day came near the end of Stage 2 on Lap 260. The fifth-year driver had been lapped by Kyle Busch, who was bearing down on Austin Dillon on the last lap.

Desperate to remain the first car a lap down before the scheduled caution, Stenhouse intended to give Busch “a nudge” to keep him from passing Dillon. His success looked like a last-lap pass for a race win.

Stenhouse’s fender sent Busch out of the groove, allowing him and Chase Elliott by, with Elliott winning the stage.

Busch said he was trying to allow Stenhouse back by.

“It was hard as I could drive,” said Stenhouse, who added that he “wouldn’t ever make that” move in the pre-stage era. “I got sponsors, fans and a team to take care of. I had to stay on the lead lap. That was a turning point in the race. If the 18 laps the 3 and then we’re stuck a lap down it could ruin our race. I drove as hard as I could and it paid off for us.”

It gave Stenhouse his second top 10 of the season – matching his career high through six races – and his second in three races. The first was a fourth-place finish at Phoenix that came after the No. 17 decided to stay out of the pits before the overtime finish.

“Definitely going to take some momentum,” Stenhouse said. “I think if you look at all our races back to Atlanta we’ve been really good. Had some misfortune, Vegas (finished 33rd), California last week (finished 22nd). But all in all we felt really good today.”

After a race at Martinsville, Stenhouse will take anything that feels good.

“It was nice to complete all 500 laps today and that was our goal coming in.”

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NASCAR America’s Jarrett, Letarte, Petty recap 2017, make 2018 predictions

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The 2017 NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series seasons have only been over for a few days.

And while it’s understandable that on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Steve Letarte, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty reflected back on the recently completed race seasons, they also took a very bold move:

The new season is still three months away, but our analyst team is ALREADY making predictions for 2018.

We don’t want to spoil the surprise or show their hands. If you want to hear how they’re already viewing 2018, click on the video above.

Justin Hartley from NBC’s ‘This Is Us’ on Dale Jr.’s special bond with fans

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Even though Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now officially retired as a NASCAR Cup driver, the special bond between the former driver of the 88 will likely never go away.

Sure, Alex Bowman is replacing Junior in the 88, which will likely pick up some of Junior Nation to cheer for him. Others will gravitate to cheer for other drivers, perhaps youngsters William Byron, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and others.

But one thing is for certain: once a Dale Jr. fan and a member of Junior Nation, ALWAYS a Dale Jr. fan and a member of Junior Nation.

Justin Hartley, who plays Kevin on NBC’s top-rated “This Is Us,” is proud to call himself a card carrying member of Junior Nation. In the video above, Hartley shows what it’s like to be a Dale Jr. fan, what the third-generation driver meant to so many people for so many years, and how his legacy will continue on for decades to come.

Check out the video above to see what Junior Nation is all about, as well as thoughts from our NBC analysts, Kyle Petty, Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett.

NASCAR America: Nate Ryan on how 78 rode roller coaster to Cup crown

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If the 2017 NASCAR Cup season was an amusement park ride, it definitely would be a roller coaster for Martin Truex Jr., crew chief Cole Pearn and the rest of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team.

Up and down the season went, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

There was adversity on the track and tragedy off the track, with Pearn losing his best friend to a freakish infection, and team member Jim Watson passing away in Kansas one day before the Cup race that Truex would go on to win and dedicate to his fallen teammate.

And through it all, Truex and longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex dealt with the recurrence of ovarian cancer with strength, inspiration and fortitude.

The 78 team’s dedication, sticking to the plan and rallying together as a family was the difference.

NBC Sports’ and NASCAR Talk’s Nate Ryan presented a touching pre-race tribute to Truex and his team before Sunday’s race. On Tuesday’s NASCAR America, Ryan gave an updated version of that tribute, capping it off with the best way possible: recalling how Truex and the 78 team won it all.

Check out the video above to see Nate’s touching piece.

 

Scan All: Miami — the best from the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400

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This week’s Scan All: Miami combined not only regular scanner traffic from team radios during Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400, but also studio cut-ins of Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn talking about their road to the Cup championship.

Here’s some of the best exchanges:

Martin Truex Jr. on coming into the race: “I felt good all weekend, I really did. I was relaxed and knew that no matter what happened, we had a great season and a lot to be proud of and a lot to build upon for the future.”

Truex on his team radio just before the green flag: “We’ve been working a long time to get here. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of you guys and what you’ve done. Thank you for an unbelieveable season. Let’s cap it off tonight.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. just before the green flag: “I just want to thank everybody that’s had an impact on my career. I’ve made friendships and relationships that’ll last a lifetime, and I’m just so thankful for that.”

Aric Almirola on his last start for Richard Petty Motorsports: “King, if you’re on the air, thanks for that phone call six years ago. It’s been a lot of fun driving this 43 car.”

Crew chief Darian Grubb to Kasey Kahne on his final start with Hendrick Motorsports: “I know it’s an emotional day for everybody. I’m proud to be able to call you teammate and even more proud to be able to continue to call you friend after this, bud.”

Kahne’s reply (while holding back tears): “Thank you guys for everything, man.”

Kahne’s spotter, Kevin Hamlin, to Grubb: “Man, you’ve got to make him cry before we go green?”

Cole Pearn on Kyle Larson getting a run: “The 42 is running the wall. He’s hauling ass.”

Clayton Hughes, spotter for Truex: “How about this, Martin Truex Jr., you are the champion, baby!”

Truex in studio cut-in on winning championship: “It was our time. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was our time. Sometimes, things are meant to be.”

Check out the whole Scan All segment in the video above.