Joey Logano comes close, but falls one spot short of playoffs (video)

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Joey Logano came into Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway facing long odds. He knew it, his opponents knew it, and fans knew it.

The only way Logano could make it into the 16-driver playoffs was ending up in victory lane. Win and he’s in. The task was pretty simple.

Still, Logano has prided himself throughout his NASCAR career of being a driver who thrives on pressure-packed situations.

And Saturday was one of the most pressure-packed situations Logano has faced in his NASCAR Cup career.

He gave it everything he had but in the end, finished one spot short of making the playoffs. Logano needed a win, but could do no better than a runner-up showing to race winner Kyle Larson.

“We just weren’t close enough to the lead to capitalize,” Logano told NBCSN after the race. “We knew that second (place) wasn’t going to be worth anything and yet we finished second.

“I’m proud of the effort we gave all weekend. … Our championship season was on the line and we just came up one spot short. It stinks, it hurts, but it’s not the end of our season.”

Logano now faces the prospect that no matter what he does in the 10-race playoffs, the highest he’ll be able to finish the 2017 NASCAR Cup season will be 17th, his worst Cup showing since 17th in 2012.

That, after making the playoffs and finishing the previous four seasons eighth (2013), fourth (2014), sixth (2015) and second (2016).

Logano enters the playoffs ranked 19th in the Cup standings.

How could a driver who was runner-up in the NASCAR Cup playoffs last season, fall so far, so fast?’s Nate Ryan gave his take on Logano, including saying, “If you look at it in the last four months, it’s not a surprise. It was trending this way for a while, ever since he won that race at Richmond (in April) and then had that finish declared encumbered, the car was deemed illegal and the win didn’t count toward the playoffs.

“Ever since then, the team was just trending in the wrong direction until tonight. I give them credit for a yeoman’s effort tonight … they came up one spot short.”

Check out the NBCSN interview with Logano (above video) after Saturday night’s race.


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.