Kasey Kahne happy to be back in playoffs, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in first playoff

Leave a comment

Kasey Kahne will end his tenure with Hendrick Motorsports at season’s end by making his first appearance in the NASCAR Cup playoffs since 2014, when the 10-race playoff was expanded to a 16-driver field.

Kahne comes into the playoffs ranked 13th. He earned an automatic playoff berth when he won the Brickyard 400, his first Cup win since the 2014 season.

Kahne finished 12th in Saturday’s race, his second-best showing since the Brickyard 400.

“I’ve been here (with Hendrick Motorsports) five or six years,” Kahne said in a post-race interview with NBCSN. “So to finish as high as I possibly can, with these guys.

“Doing it all together, putting in the best effort we can each week, when it’s all said and done, we’ll be happy about our effort and finish out what’s next.”

Stenhouse, meanwhile, qualified for his first playoffs in his fifth full-time season in NASCAR Cup.

Stenhouse has had his long-awaited breakthrough season in 2017, winning the first two races of his Cup career — the spring race at Talladega and the summer race at Daytona.

Even though he finished 19th in Saturday’s race, Stenhouse enters the playoffs in eighth position, 43 points behind top-ranked Martin Truex Jr.

“It’s cool to be in our first playoffs and can’t wait to see if we can’t advance a few rounds and put a 10-race stretch together,” Stenhouse told NBCSN. “We have to find a little bit more speed in our cars.

“We’ve been searching for that all summer long. I like the tracks coming up and have had success there. Looking forward to our first playoffs and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

 

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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.