‘Best run in a long time’ helps Chase Elliott finish second

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JOLIET, Illinois — While Martin Truex Jr. celebrated his win in Sunday’s playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway, Chase Elliott could feel good about his runner-up finish and stage victory.

It has been a long summer for Hendrick Motorsports, which has not had the speed to contend for wins at many tracks. While Truex was clearly the class of the field Sunday, Elliott showed that he had a strong car, scoring his second consecutive top-10 finish. He last accomplished that feat in June.

“This is the best run we’ve had in a long time,’’ said Elliott, who continues to look for his first career Cup victory after 68 series starts. “We had the thing driving right, and we could adjust on it and make minor tweaks instead of swinging for the fence. It’s not easy by any means, but we’re getting there. Today was a step in the right direction.’’

Elliott’s performance, which included winning Stage 2, allowed him to score a race-high 53 points — the most points he’s scored in a race this year. His total was aided by 18 stage points, the most he’s earned in a race this year.

“Every race you’re scratching and clawing for every point you can get,’’ crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “The stage points we gained today were really significant. We wanted to get as many stage points as we could to help us close the gap on those guys (ahead). I think we did our job today. The one (playoff) point isn’t going to hurt.’’

The result is that Elliott climbed from 10th to sixth in the standings heading into next weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He’s 33 points ahead of the cutoff with two races left in the opening round.

Elliott’s performance Sunday mirrored what happened last year in this race. Hendrick cars hadn’t been as strong entering the playoffs but Elliott excelled and finished third. Gustafson said the uptick in performance wasn’t a coincidence.

“The track is probably a decent track for us, but I think it’s more of an indication of the effort of the team and (Hendrick Motorsports) to perform better,’’ he said.

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Cole Pearn to honor late friend with fundraiser for family next month in Toronto

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A testimonial to Cole Pearn’s best friend, who unexpectedly passed away in early August, as well as a fundraiser for his family will be held Friday, Jan. 5, at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Pearn’s lifelong friend, Jacob Damen, died unexpectedly after contracting a fast-moving bacterial infection on August 3.

Pearn, crew chief for the 2017 NASCAR Cup championship for Furniture Row Racing, will oversee the gala event, which will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. ET.

The evening will also include an appearance by 2017 NASCAR Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., silent and live auctions, the opportunity to meet both Pearn and Truex and other events.

All net proceeds from the evening will be given to the Damen Family Fund.

“We miss our buddy Jacob dearly,” Pearn said in a media release. “We all have family and friends that fill a space in our hearts that is irreplaceable.

“Jacob filled the hearts of his wife Carolyn, his sons Lucas and Nolan, his parents Jerry and Kim Damen, twin brother Tyler, sister Julia and countless friends.

“We are going to celebrate his life at the perfect spot, the Hockey Hall of Fame, to support his beautiful wife Carolyn and the two boys, Lucas and Nolan. I can’t wait to get home to celebrate with everyone.”

Click here for more details and to purchase tickets to the ‘Jacob Damen Friend and Fan Remembered’ event.

NASCAR Fan Appreciation Day scheduled for Jan. 20

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The annual NASCAR Fan Appreciation Day will return to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, next month.

The event is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 20, the day after the 2018 Hall of Fame class is inducted.

Fans will be able to take part in an autograph session with current national series drivers, Hall of Famers and members of the NASCAR Next class, as well photo opportunities and question-and-answer sessions with a number of NASCAR legends.

Admission to Hall of Fame will be free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis

Admission to driver autograph sessions is free but will require a ticket for participation. Fans can register for the driver autograph sessions at nascarhall.com beginning Saturday, Jan. 13 at 10 a.m. ET. A full driver autograph session schedule will be announced at a later date.

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Ryan Blaney to guest star on NBC’s ‘Taken’ next year

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Ryan Blaney has a particular set of skills; skills that he’s developed through years of professional auto racing.

The Team Penske driver will get to display those skills next year on NBC’s “Taken” TV Series.

The show serves as a prequel to the 2008 Liam Neeson film of the same name.

Blaney, 23, will guest start on the second season of the series, which premieres Jan. 12. He will appear in an episode titled “Imperium” as a special agent who knows his way around a car.

Here’s the plot synopsis for the episode.

“When a dangerous weapons dealer smuggles his wares into New York City, Bryan Mills (Clive Standen) teams up with the FBI in a race to stop him before he reaches the safety of international waters.”

This won’t be Blaney’s first time in front of a camera playing someone else. He had two movie cameos this year in Logan Lucky and Cars 3.

Blaney was filming his role in “Taken” on Tuesday in Ontario. See his tweets from the set below.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram update: Leaves ICU, moves to acute care facility

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Ingram’s condition continues to improve following a serious car crash in his native Asheville, North Carolina on Dec. 3.

According to an online post by his daughter, Ingram was taken out of Intensive Care on Tuesday and moved into an Acute Care facility, which is not as serious as ICU is.

Ingram did suffer a small setback in his recovery, developing a slight infection that is being treated with antibiotics.

Added the note from Ingrid Jones, Jack’s daughter, “The acute care facility will work to start decreasing his pain meds, over time, and put him on less narcotics and more simple analgesics (like really strong Tylenol, but without narcotics).

“Also they will continue his therapies, physical and occupational, as he’s able. It is still hard to know what his long-term health future will be, but we think his color looks really good, and we have no doubts that he has the will and determination to see this through.

“So if it is humanly possible for him to overcome, he will.”

We’ll continue to have periodic updates on Ingram’s condition as they become available.