Clean Sweep: Kyle Busch completes Bristol trifecta

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Yes, it’s Bristol, baby, but Saturday night it was Kyle Busch, baby, as Busch won the Night Race and completed his sweep of the Truck, Xfinity and Cup races this week at the half-mile track.

Busch passed rookie Erik Jones, seeking his first career Cup win, with 56 laps left and went on to score his second victory of the year. Busch held off a charge from Jones late, winding his way through traffic as Jones got held up.

It’s the second time Busch swept the Truck, Xfinity and Cup races at Bristol, doing so in 2010. This also was Busch’s 40th career Cup win.

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“Man, Erik Jones put up a whale of a fight,” Busch told NBC Sports at the start/finish line. “That was all that I had. I was running with my tongue hanging out.”

Said Jones: “We race hard all night. We led a lot of laps. We did almost everything we needed to do. I wish we had a little bit more. It’s a bummer.”

Denny Hamlin placed third and was followed by Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch.

Busch’s victory and points leader Martin Truex Jr.’s woes (loose rear wheel and pit road penalty) kept Truex from clinching the regular-season title and 15 playoff points that go with it. Truex leads Busch by 101 points with two races to go until the playoffs begin.

Busch’s victory was his sixth Cup win at Bristol. That leads all active Cup drivers and ranks fifth all-time at that track.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE  2 WINNER: Matt Kenseth

HOW DID KYLE BUSCH WIN: He had the best car, hunted the leaders and did what he had done this week after winning the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series races this week at Bristol.

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Rookie Erik Jones led a race-high 260 laps and finished a career-best second. … Matt Kenseth rebounded from a speeding penalty to finish fourth. … Kurt Busch, making his 600th career Cup start, finished fifth even after hitting the wall during the race. .

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Brad Keselowski suffered a cut left front tire after contact and was four laps down before Lap 10 of the race. He never recovered and finished 29th. … Martin Truex Jr., had to pit for a loose right rear wheel as the race started shortly after Lap 200. Truex then was penalized for an outside tire violation and was two laps behind the leaders after serving the penalty. He finished 21st.

NOTABLE: Toyota went 1-2-3-4 with Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. It is the second time in the last three races that Toyota took the top four spots in a Cup race.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “I can’t fight as much as I want to fight on social. There’s a lot of trolls out there, so my guys do it for me, so I appreciate them and being able to do that,” winner Kyle Busch on the support of his fan base, Rowdy Nation.

NEXT: The Cup Series is off next weekend and returns to action Sept. 3 for the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on NBCSN.

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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.

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.