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Martin Truex Jr. gets by with a little help from his friend, Erik Jones

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For the previous three seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was like a lone wolf with Furniture Row Racing, its sole driver in the NASCAR Cup Series.

At times it was tough, like 2014, his first year with Furniture Row, when he endured his worst Cup season. He finished 24th in the standings, failing to win and earned just one top-five and five top 10s.

When the team affiliated with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing in 2016, things got markedly better for the driver of the No. 78. He earned a career-best four wins, as well as eight top-fives and 17 top 10s.

Even though Truex and his team were receiving extensive help from JGR and Toyota, he still was going it alone as Furniture Row’s sole driver.

That changed this season, with the addition of Erik Jones in Furniture Row’s No. 77 Toyota. And the results have definitely helped Truex.

He’s won one of the first six races (Las Vegas), the only Toyota driver to do so.

Truex also has two top-fives, three top 10s and is ranked third in the Cup standings heading into this weekend’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at the repaved Texas Motor Speedway.

While JGR is still helping Truex, the addition of Jones has also been significant to the latter’s success this season.

“Yeah, it’s something we do every week, looking at data and things,” Truex said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “You know, I say nothing’s really changed. That’s really a compliment to him (Erik Jones) and to his team because he’s done such a good job, they’ve done such a good job.

“You’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s a rookie,’ but he’s doing good and everything’s fine. It’s really impressive to watch how those guys do it. He goes to race tracks and it seems like he’s been there before. I guess I’m kind of playing it off as not much has changed when it’s really kind of a huge deal, you know, for those guys.

“It’s a huge compliment to them just by being able to say it’s not a big deal for them. So, yeah, it’s been cool. But all that data sharing stuff, I mean, he knows what he’s doing. He knows what he wants most importantly. He knows what he’s looking for. He feels the car out well. In our debriefs and things, he really kind of knows what he’s talking about. It’s real easy to buy into his information and use it, if needed. It’s been good.”

It’s also been good for Truex when it comes to the new stages format this season. He’s won four of the first 12 stages, garnering 63 points along the way, leaving him 16 points behind stage points leader Chase Elliott.

While other teams may have struggled early in the season getting used to the new format, Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn went in a different direction, looking at stage racing as business as usual.

“I think it’s really not doing anything different, but consistently running up front, leading laps and trying to perform well is kind of what the stage points system rewards,” Truex said. “We were able to do that last year. We’re hopeful this year it would pay off – so far it has.

“Certainly we’ve had a few weeks here and there where we haven’t been quite as good as we wanted to. I think overall the start to the season has been solid. Need to find a little more consistency, but all in all the stage racing has gone well, it’s been fun, added a little kink to things. Fortunately for us, we’ve been able to get some points out of it, so it’s been good.”

As for Pearn, he’s embraced working the stages into his race strategy atop the pit box.

“Cole’s always thinking of ways to find advantages, no matter what the situation,” Truex said. “You dangle some points out there in front of him, he’s going to try to figure out a way to get ’em.

“For the most part it’s really just been pretty straightforward as far as if you’re running up front, you’re in position to take advantage of those stages. I think Martinsville last weekend was the first time we’ve actually kind of gambled on one of them to get that first stage win.

“We weren’t the best car. Some guys had pit road penalties. We stayed out. It worked out – we got that first stage win. That’s the first time we’ve kind of done something a little different just to try to get ’em, was successful at that, so we’ll see how it plays out.”

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NASCAR America: Don’t count out Kyle Busch at Kansas (video)

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Kyle Busch is ranked ninth, seven points below the cut-off line to advance to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup playoffs, heading into Sunday’s Round of 12 finale at Kansas Speedway.

While many of his fans may fear that with back-to-back poor finishes at Charlotte and Talladega, Busch will be eliminated at Kansas, the NASCAR America crew on Monday felt exactly the opposite.

They’re bullish on the younger Busch’s chances of advancing to the third round of the playoffs – very bullish.

Here’s why:

Dale Jarrett: “Other years, you have two bad races like he’s had, he wouldn’t have a chance of going to Kansas other than winning. I think he’s very capable of winning at Kansas. He has two opportunities here: he runs well in both stages, let’s say he earns 17 to 20 points and he gets himself in a good position and then he runs in the top-five, which he’s done on a regular basis recently. I think he has great opportunity and gets through (to the Round of 8) with no problem.”

Nate Ryan: “At one point, Kansas Speedway was a house of horrors for Kyle Busch. It took him 10 years to get his first win there. Now, he’s had five straight top-fives there. He had 16 stage points in the race there at May. And because Toyotas are running really well on mile-and-a-half speedways, he’s qualifying well, I think you can count on him amassing a significant number of stage points and probably more than the guy he’s below on the cutline right now, Jimmie Johnson.”

Kyle Petty: “I know we’re looking at the points; don’t look at the points. In the first 26 races, he was in contention almost every week. Honestly, I don’t think the stage points are going to matter … Kyle Busch can go there and win this race and all this speculation, all this doubt, can be thrown out the window. He’s still a favorite, as far as I’m concerned.”

NASCAR America: What Talladega win meant to Yates family (video)

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It was a heartwarming day Sunday for engine builder Doug Yates.

While he was happy that Brad Keselowski and his Ford – powered by a Roush-Yates engine under the hood – won the Alabama 500, it was also a strong reminder of his father, Robert, who passed away nearly two weeks ago.

“My dad and I loved racing here together so much, from the time we started with Davey Allison back in 1987 when he won here,” Doug Yates said. “It’s an emotional time.

“It’s a great place, I’m glad I’m here, feels like coming home, and I know he would be so proud of us and all the hard work that everybody at Roush-Yates Engines put in, and Ford Performance and the drive that Brad Keselowski and Team Penske put on was really special.

“We’re really proud to be here and I know my dad’s smiling today.”

Also, check out what Dale Jarrett, Nate Ryan and Kyle Petty had to say about the significance of the Yates family legacy to NASCAR over the years.

 

 

NASCAR AMERICA: How working radio, Joey Logano helped Keselowski win at Talladega

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Sure, Brad Keselowski had to dodge much of the mayhem Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway to win the Alabama 500.

But there was more to it than just Keselowski crossing the finish line.

His win also proved the importance of spotters and radio communications at Talladega. When Keselowski lost an antenna on top of his car, the team was forced to pit and give up track position temporarily to allow his team to fix the radio for the long haul.

That moved proved pivotal as it’s likely Keselowski wouldn’t have won if not for his spotter steering him away from problems and to keep him abreast of all the cars around him on the final laps.

The NASCAR America crew discussed that on Monday’s show. Check out the video above.

And then, check out the video below, where Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano, helped get Keselowski to victory lane.

Sure, Logano wanted to win himself, but when it appeared that wouldn’t happen, Logano helped keep Keselowski at the front of the field all the way to the checkered flag.

Check out what our NASCAR America analysts had to say about how Logano and Keselowski worked together in the video below.

 

NASCAR America: Talladega brings Dale Jr. retirement into focus (video)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans that have been in denial about his retirement at season’s end may have been slapped with a huge sense of reality in Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

There’s no other track that has been as synonymous with Junior and his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Sr., than NASCAR’s largest track, the 2.66-mile facility about 50 miles east of Birmingham, Alabama.

Now that Talladega is in Junior’s rearview mirror, reality is quickly setting in that he has just five races remaining in his NASCAR Cap career: this Sunday at Kansas, followed by Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, our team of analysts explored the reality that Junior’s storied career is indeed coming to a conclusion.

“This weekend really felt like this was it,” said NBCSports.com’s Nate Ryan. “It had the right amount of sentimentality, there were the feel-good moments, and even though he didn’t win, there’s no other track where you can hear the roar of 100,000 people over the engines going down the frontstretch at Talladega.

“I really feel like you had that this weekend. Giving him that No. 2 car his father owned and him being on the pole, this really felt like this was the moment when there was a great appreciation for everything Dale Jr. has done in his career. It felt like this was the race this season where we’re really finally honoring Dale Jr.’s  last year.”

Added Jarrett, “With everything I saw the entire weekend, you could tell just from his voice the appreciation he felt of everything that was being done for him and I think it’s finally setting in to him that this is coming to an end.

“But I think he also realized that realistically, yesterday was going to be their best opportunity to get back to victory lane that one last time. Sure, he has a chance at the rest of these races, they’ve been running better and we know anything can happen, but I think that would have been more special to him if he had been able to do that.”