Photos: Dustin Long, NBC Sports

Danica Patrick to have Robert Yates Racing throwback scheme in Southern 500

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Danica Patrick’s No. 10 Ford Fusion will honor 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Robert Yates with a special paint scheme for the 68th Bojangles’ Southern 500 on Sept. 3 at Darlington Raceway.

Patrick’s car will carry a paint scheme similar to the one that was on the car NASCAR Hall of Famer and NASCAR on NBC announcer Dale Jarrett drove to the 1999 NASCAR Cup championship for Robert Yates Racing.

“The throwback race at Darlington is such a cool event,” said Patrick, who will be competing in her sixth Southern 500. “I’m excited to run a true throwback scheme (and) that we’re able to honor Robert Yates and all he’s done for our sport.”

2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Robert Yates.

The scheme was revealed Monday during a press conference at Stewart-Haas Racing in Kannapolis, North Carolina. To further honor Yates, his name will appear above the driver’s side door in place of Patrick’s name.

Yates spent more than two decades in the sport before branching out on his own, forming Robert Yates Racing in the late 1980s.

The team expanded to a two-car operation in 1996 when Jarrett joined up, driving the No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford.

In addition to winning the championship, RYR went on to capture 57 NASCAR Cup wins during its tenure. Three of those were victories in the Daytona 500, including 1996, Jarrett’s first race with the team.

“Getting to see this scheme run again will bring back many great memories,” Yates said. “I can’t thank everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing enough for honoring me and everyone that was on the team during those years.”

The throwback scheme will also have special significance to Patrick’s crew chief, Billy Scott.

“Robert Yates Racing gave me my first job in the NASCAR Cup Series, so to take our No. 10 Ford Fusion to Darlington in tribute of Robert and all that he’s accomplished makes me extremely proud,” Scott said.

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Kyle Larson wins Stage 1 at Miami, Brad Keselowski leads Championship 4 drivers

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Kyle Larson won Stage 1 of Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, dominating by leading 67 of the stage’s 80 laps, holding a nine-second edge when he took the checkered flag.

Meanwhile, here’s how the four Championship 4 drivers finished after the first 80 laps of the scheduled 267-lap event: Brad Keselowski is second, Kyle Busch is third, Kevin Harvick is fourth and Martin Truex Jr. in fifth.

Truex, with six of his seven wins this season coming on 1.5-mile tracks like Homestead-Miami, wasted little time to take the lead away from pole-sitter Denny Hamlin.

The first caution of the race came out on Lap 6 when Joey Gase appeared to blow a tire and hit the Turn 1 wall hard.

During the subsequent pit stop, the only Championship 4 driver to hit pit road for four new tires was Keselowski, putting him off-sequence of the other contenders.

The move worked, though, as Keselowski quickly climbed from ninth on the restart on Lap 9 to third by Lap 12 and second by Lap 14.

Larson, who also pitted with Keselowski, took the lead away from Truex on Lap 13 and held on for the remaining 67 laps of the stage.

On Lap 38, Jimmie Johnson blew a right rear tire and came to pit road for four new tires. Even though there was no caution, all four championship contenders pitted over the following two laps.

On Lap 58, Harvick passed Truex and into third place for the first time in the race, zeroing on Keselowski in second.

Johnson got into the wall again on Lap 60, even though there was no caution, and sustained moderate damage, pitting for four tires and fuel.

Kyle Busch passed Harvick to take over third on Lap 77.

Sixth through 10th were Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer.

Watch: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fans on what the driver means to them

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The fan base of Dale Earnhardt Jr. is large and devoted.

Those fans, affectionately called “Junior Nation,” has voted Earnhardt as NASCAR’s most popular driver 14 years in a row.

Justin Hartley of NBC’s “This is Us” is a member of Earnhardt’s fan base. The actor narrates the above essay on the close relationship between the driver and his fans.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks to Bob Costas about his career, legacy before final Cup start

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Sunday marks Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s last start as a full-time Cup driver in NASCAR.

NBC Sports’ Bob Costas sat down with the 14-time most popular driver before the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to get Earnhardt’s thoughts before he climbed in the No. 88 Chevrolet for the last time.

Earnhardt addressed what he hopes his legacy will be after 20 years in the sport as a driver, including his impact on attitudes towards concussions in sports in general.

Earnhardt, who will join NBC Sports in 2018, also talked about what life has in store for him in the near future.

Earnhardt also made sure to credit his devoted fan base for making his career possible.

“I understand the driving force behind my success and opportunity in this sport, whether it be inside the car or outside the car, is all because of Jr. Nation,” Earnhardt said. “This year we’ve tried our best to show appreciation to them.”

Watch the above video for the full interview.

 

Furniture Row Racing going for Cup title after year of success, tragedy

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It’s been a historic year for Furniture Row Racing, the Cup team that has its base of operations in an old water bed factory in Denver, Colorado.

With Martin Truex Jr. piloting the No. 78 Toyota, they won a team record seven races and a series record six races on 1.5-mile tracks. Combined with a dominating performance under the new stage racing format, Truex has put the team in its second Championship 4 in three years.

But it’s also been a season of perseverance and tragedy.

NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan narrates the above video essay on the story of Furniture Row Racing’s 2017 season.