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Matt Kenseth focused on making playoffs, not 2018 plans

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Matt Kenseth, who holds the final playoff spot with three races to go, says he’s more focused on that than what he’ll do in 2018.

Kenseth does not have a ride for next year with Erik Jones replacing him at Joe Gibbs Racing after this season.

Asked if he had any plans for 2018 on Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Kenseth said: “No, not at the moment. When I do I’ll tweet something. Like on a Monday or something. No plans right now. Just raise kids and hang out with my family.

“I’ll be honest with you … I’m not worried about (2018) even really one percent anymore to be honest with you. I’m just not concerned about it. I’m really concerned about 2017 and that’s the truth. I mean we’ve got 13 races or something left. Three to try to get into … the playoffs. We’re not in there yet. Kind of got ran over at the end of the race last week by the 24 (Chase Elliott), trying to race him. But hopefully we get a win, get in the playoffs and try to race for a championship. That’s our goal every year, and really that’s what I’m been concentrating on.’’

Kenseth leads Clint Bowyer by 31 points heading into Saturday’s race at Bristol (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC). Kenseth was in position to build that lead last week until the final restart at Michigan. He restarted third but contact caused him to fall back. He finished 24th, the last car on the lead lap, breaking a streak of four consecutive top-10 finishes. Kenseth lost 21 points from where he restarted to where he finished.

Kenseth said his strategy hasn’t changed even with his position in the points.

“I’ve never been in a race I didn’t want to win,’’ he said. “I’ve never been in a race where I didn’t feel like I needed the win. I don’t know that it really changes. You know ever since Daytona we’ve been trying to win and know that quote unquote needed that win. To me it doesn’t really change. You’re going to race as hard as you can and try to get that win anytime you can.

“It’s really hard to win races at this level. I’ve been doing it a long time, really haven’t won that many races compared to how many I’ve started, so I realize how hard it is to win. You always try to take advantage of those opportunities if you have them.”

Kenseth has six career Cup wins on a short track. That ranks tied for fifth with Kevin Harvick behind Jimmie Johnson (14 wins), Kyle Busch (10), Kurt Busch (nine), Denny Hamlin (nine).

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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.