Danica Patrick ends July by completing best stretch of racing in two years

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For the first five months of the season, almost nothing seemed to go right for Danica Patrick.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver, in her fifth full-time season in the Cup Series, recorded seven DNFs through the first 17 races of the year. Six of those were for crashes, and it seemed like each was harder than the last.

And after a particularity violent crash at Kansas that injured Aric Almirola, Patrick voiced frustration at her run of bad luck.

By the time she crashed out of the July 1 race at Daytona, Patrick had one top-10 finish (10th, Dover) – her first in two seasons – and no other finish better than 16th.

Flash forward to Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway – the same track where a Facebook video earlier this year showed her lecturing fans after they booed her for not signing autographs – and Patrick was capping off her best four-race stretch in two seasons.

Patrick drove her No. 10 Ford to a 15th-place finish in the Overton’s 400. It was her fourth straight top-15 finish, a career first for Patrick who has 175 Cup starts since 2012.

The stretch began at Kentucky Speedway, where she also placed 15th. She followed it with a 13th at New Hampshire and an 11th at Indianapolis.

“The Code 3 Associates Ford team did a great job today getting us another top 15,” Patrick said after the race. “We have really gained some consistency over the past few weekends. I think we’re going to put together more top 15s and top 10s this season as long as we can stay out of trouble and finish the race.”

Patrick ended this stretch with an average finish of 13.5. According to Racing Insights, her previous best four-race stretch based off average finish was in March and April 2015. Patrick averaged a finish of 12.8 in races at Auto Club Speedway (19th), Martinsville (seventh), Texas (16th) and Bristol (ninth).

This current streak is also just the third time in her career she’s earned three consecutive top-20 finishes.

But Patrick almost lost out on her chance at a top 15 on the first lap of Sunday’s race.

After starting 22nd, she was one of eight cars counted in a crash in Turn 3. But the No. 10 Ford only suffered minor front end damage. But as teams executed various pit strategies in Stage 1, Patrick found herself in fourth place on Lap 27 before she pitted on Lap 30.

In Stage 2, Patrick spent much of the 50-lap segment running in 11th after restarting from a Lap 70 caution in 13th.

As leaders pitted neat the end of the stage, Patrick moved into third where she finished the stage. It was only the third time Patrick has earned stage points this season. She finished eighth in Stage 1 at Talladega, earning three points. She also finished sixth in her Daytona 500 qualifying race, earning five points.

Now Patrick heads to Watkins Glen International. In four starts at the road course, Patrick’s best finish is 17th in 2015. Last year, she led a season-high 11 laps in the race.

Virginia’s Motor Mile Speedway to end short track racing, drops NASCAR sanction

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Motor Mile Speedway has decided to not renew its NASCAR sanction for 2018, ending its reign as a circle track.

The .416-mile paved oval track in Fairlawn, Virginia, will undergo a significant transformation starting next year which does not include short track racing. A NASCAR Home Track, it has hosted the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for a number of years and hosted a number of then-Busch Series races nearly 30 years ago.

While it may return to host some select racing events in the future, track officials in a news release announced it will soon host “a variety of entertainment and sporting events.”

“We have tried to make the speedway successful, but with a downturn in interest, it’s increasingly difficult to make it work,” Speedway co-owner David Hagan said in a media release. “We are looking at a variety of events to bring new life and excitement to the property.

“The schedule could include everything from concerts, mud runs, festivals, camping, and even new racing events at some point.  You name it and it’s probably come up at our table.”

Located about an hour southwest of Roanoke, Virginia, the speedway sits on a 170-acre parcel of land. While the speedway will cease holding races, it’s adjacent drag strip will continue to operate for sportsman racing.

Click here for the full media release from the speedway.

NASCAR issues three lug nut penalties in final penalty report of season

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NASCAR has issued three penalties to crew chiefs for unsecured lug nuts following the championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jason Ratcliff, crew chief on the No. 20 Toyota driven by Matt Kenseth, has been fined $20,000 and suspended one Cup points race for two unsecured lug nuts.

Ratcliff will be moving to the Xfinity Series to serve as Christopher Bell’s crew chief next season. The suspension is series specific. So he will be available to crew chief Bell in the season-opening race at Daytona.

Paul Wolfe, crew chief on Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

In the Camping World Truck Series, Phil Gould, crew chief on Ryan Truex‘s No. 16 Toyota, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

Watch: Denver-area fans celebrate Martin Truex Jr.’s championship

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Barney Visser’s Furniture Row Racing is the only Cup team headquartered west of the Mississippi River, claiming Denver, Colorado, as its home.

Since the team began competing in NASCAR in 2005, the team has built up a dedicated fanbase in the city.

Those fans were rewarded when Martin Truex Jr. won Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 and claimed the team’s first Cup championship.

One watch party in the area took place the Quaker Steak & Lube in Westminster, just north of Denver.

A fan has shared video of the moment Truex captured the championship.

Above, you can watch the Furniture Row Racing fans in attendance celebrate during the final lap of the race.

NASCAR America: Elliott Sadler shouldn’t blame Ryan Preece for losing Xfinity title

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It was arguably one of the most difficult pills Elliott Sadler has ever had to swallow.

Just when it appeared he might finally capture his first career NASCAR championship in Saturday’s Xfinity Series title race, Sadler found himself held up by Ryan Preece, who was racing for the car owner’s title for Joe Gibbs Racing but was not involved in the race for the driver championship.

Preece was running the high line and kept Sadler from getting by him. Sadler tried everything he could to pass Preece, even putting his bumper into the back of Preece’s Toyota to get him to move over.

But that contact ultimately wound up costing Sadler one last chance to catch William Byron, who went on to win the Xfinity championship in his first year in the series.

Sadler, meanwhile, finished second for the second consecutive year — and the fourth time in the last seven seasons.

On Monday’s NASCAR America, analysts Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman broke down what happened to Sadler and whether Preece played a part in preventing Sadler from winning the title.

Here’s how Jarrett looked at it:

“I understand the frustration from Elliott Sadler with a driver that really’s not involved in anything. Ryan Preece is an outstanding young driver that made a name for himself. … I think they gave him bad information and put this young man in a very difficult situation. He wasn’t going to catch the 22 car at that point in time. It was really time for him to get out of the way of the two drivers battling for the championship.

“Unfortunately, his name is going to be associated with affecting the championship in this way. It’s part of it, he doesn’t have to pull out of the way, it’s up to Elliott to figure out a way to get around him.”

And here’s how Kligerman analyzed things:

“I completely understand Elliott Sadler’s frustrations. He had a chance to win the championship, he was in the front and felt like not being able to accomplish that pass on Ryan Preece and maybe get a little help there.

“But it’s not like Ryan stuck it out there, he was beside him and it just didn’t work out. And as they got together, I felt Ryan was running the same line he had been running, and that was Elliott trying to make a last-ditch effort.

“… He’s racing to have a job, to have a career in this sport, like Elliott Sadler. He told me after the race he was upset because he was an Elliott Sadler fan his whole life. He grew up watching Elliott Sadler. He did not want to be part of the championship discussion but was trying to do his job, doing what Joe Gibbs Racing told him to do, which was to try to beat the 22 for the owner’s title.

“I know why Elliott is upset, it’s the fourth time he’s finished second, but I don’t think Ryan did anything wrong.”

Catch more of what Parker and DJ had to say in the video above.

And speaking of William Byron, check out what our two analysts had to say about his championship in the video below.