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Who is Hot and Not ahead of the Cup regular-season finale at Richmond

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Richmond Raceway may or may not be a crapshoot.

In the last six races at the .75-mile track, six different drivers have visited victory lane.

The last driver to repeat as a winner at the “Action Track” is Joey Logano. He won in April and in the spring 2014 race.

Logano will be desperate to win this weekend. The Team Penske driver has to win Saturday to make the playoffs after his April win was deemed ineligible for the playoffs after his car failed inspection.

If his performance over all the Cup Series’ short tracks this season continues, Logano may have a good chance.

Logano has finished in the top five in three of the four short track races so far, the most of all drivers. His worst finish was 13th in the Bristol night race.

But Logano may want to give extra attention to qualifying. In that same six-race stretch of unique winners, each of them started in the top five.

Here is who is hot and not ahead of the Federated Auto Parts 400.

Who is Hot

Denny Hamlin
• Won at Darlington for his second win of the season (New Hampshire). Was encumbered for failing inspection.
• Top-four finishes in eight of the last 11 races, including two wins.
• Three Richmond wins, all in the fall including this race last year.
• Worst finish in the last four races at Richmond is sixth. Finished was third in April.

Kyle Busch
• Finished second at Darlington. Has finished in the top two in three of the last five races.
• Two wins this season, both came in the last five races (Pocono and Bristol).
• Finished top 10 in the last five races for his best streak this season
• Four Richmond wins, all came in the spring race.

Kevin Harvick
• Finished ninth at Darlington after winning the pole.
• Finished top 10 in 14 of the last 19 races of 2017.
• Three Richmond wins, but all with Richard Childress Racing.
• Finished fifth in the last three races at Richmond.

Erik Jones
• Finished fifth at Darlington, top-five finishes in the last three races.
• Finished top 10 in the last five races for best streak of his career.
• One start at Richmond. Accident on Lap 4 in April resulted in finishing 38th.

Who is Not

Jimmie Johnson.
• Finished 12th at Darlington for sixth straight race without a top-10 finish.
• One top 10 in his last 10 races (10th at New Hampshire).
• Three top-five finishes this season, all wins.
• Three Richmond wins. Last came in 2008.

Kasey Kahne
• Finished 24th at Darlington. Has only one top-10 finish in the last 15 races, a win at Indy.
• Six DNFs from accidents this season.
• One Richmond win in 2005, the first Cup win of his career.
• Finished 22nd in April.

Joey Logano
• Finished 18th at Darlington.
• Ten finishes outside the top 20 in the last 16 races.
• Won at Richmond in April but finish was encumbered after his car failed inspection.

Chase Elliott
• Finished 11th at Darlington. Has only two top 10s in the last seven races.
• In four Richmond starts, best finish was 12th in April 2016.
• Finished 24th at Richmond in April.

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.